Joseph M. Schenck has presented George Arliss in “The House of Rothschild.” In the advertisements the producers are quoting the elder Mayer Amschel Rothschild’s dying words to his five son:
“Trade with dignity. Live with dignity. Walk the world with dignity.”
And they add:
“See the Rothschilds as ardent Jews and loyal patriots! See the Rothschilds in their true Jewish dignity, and with their true Jewish ethics!”
The film, based on episodes in the life of the famous Jewish bankers, has been hailed by the critics as a masterpiece, and George Arliss is showered with the highest praise.
George Arliss is a great artist. In the role of Nathan Rothschild he is more brilliant than ever. The film is interesting indeed, though hardly as effective and artistic as it could have been if the propaganda element had not been so injudiciously overemphasized. The play on this same theme, produced a few years ago at the Burgtheater in Vienna, was infinitely superior to this film as a work of art.
But we are not concerned at this time with “The House of Rothschild” as an artistic screen production. Though it may be regarded by many people, as it is apparently regarded by the producers, as a pro-Jewish propagandist film, it is well to point out that a sentimentalized idealization of the Rothschilds is not a defense of or a tribute to Jewry. The Rothschilds cannot be considered as the typical representatives or leaders of the Jewish people. The Jews have never viewed them in that light.
A number of the Rothschilds were undoubtedly men of integrity and of high ideals. Most of them were shrewd financiers, and much of their success as financiers was due in a measure to the fact that they were guided by the finer Jewish traditions of integrity and idealism. The most popular of the Rothschilds, Baron Edmond, is universally admired by the Jewish people not because of his genius as a banker but because of his humanitarian, philanthropic activities and chiefly because of his boundless love for Zion which he demonstrated with far sighted sagacity and unparalleled generosity long before Theodore Herzl laid the foundations of political Zionism. Baron Edmond de Rothschild is beloved by all Jewry, but not as a financial wizard.
The Rothschilds, however great and good they may have been, represented only a slight portion of Jewry. They have occupied but a small corner in the picture of Jewish life. Throughout the ages the Jewish people had distinguished itself mainly by its intellectual and moral contributions to the world. A sympathetic delineation of Jewish financial wizards, skillfully playing their role in international diplomacy, is not pro-Jewish but pro-Rothschild propaganda.
But if the greater part of this film is devoted to an idealization of the Rothschilds, the opening scenes of the home life of the elder Rothschild in the Frankfurt Ghetto will hardly please either the Rothschilds, or the Jews in general, for they bring out the shadier side of the founder of the Rothschild “dynasty,” showing his shrewdness and trickiness, his readiness to cheat the tax collector, even though the unspeakable Ghetto disabilities and the unscrupulousness of the oppressors of the Jews may have justified Mayer Rothschil’s shortcomings. If Mayer Rothschild is portrayed faithfully in the early scenes of the film, his dying words to his five sons “to trade with dignity, to live with dignity and to walk the world with dignity” sound unconvincing, incredible. For these five sons, who lived with their father, witnessed that he himself did not trade with dignity and did not walk the world with dignity.
As a vehicle for George Arliss, “The House of Rothschild” is effective. He achieves in it a real triumph. As a pro-Jewish propaganda film, it is a failure. The exaggerations of the power of the Rothschilds in international diplomacy may be construed by the anti-Semites as confirmation of the mythical, forged “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The unsympathetic earlier scenes will surely appeal to the enemies of the Jews.
The producers undoubtedly had good intentions. They tried to produce a successful film, which would at the same time help to combat anti-Jewish prejudice. A little better judgment and discretion in the use of the material could have accomplished this result.