Rothschild Film Starts New Run at the Rivoli
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Rothschild Film Starts New Run at the Rivoli

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Make a habit of glancing through the classified advertising columns. They may have a surprise in store for you.

Whether “The House of Rothschild,” the magnificent production presented by Joseph M. Schenck under the banner of 20th Century Pictures and starring George Arliss, which opened last night at the Rivoli Theatre at popular prices, following its long two-a-day run at the Astor Theatre, is pro or anti-Semitic propaganda, is not the concern, at the moment, of this column. I am concerned solely in telling you that I think this is one of the most entertaining, stirring and fascinating picture that has come out of Hollywood since the microphone and camera were wedded.


The picture is successful because George Arliss is a great and fine actor. Although not a Jew himself, his portrayal of the dual role of Maier Rothschild, head of the family, and Nathan, the eldest son, is so warm, sympathetic and typical of the type, that it will be difficult to convince any one that he is not one of the “Chosen.” He is ably supported by Boris Karloff, who plays with fierce gestures the German anti-Semite; Loretta Young, the Rothschild girl who wants to marry a Gentile; Helen Westley as the old matriarch of the family, and Robert Young, as the lover.


No attempt has been made to follow the history of the Rothschilds. The author has picked up the family as it existed in the Ghetto of Frankfurt and follows its fortunes to the knighting of Nathan Rothschild by the King of England.

Maier Rothschild, founder of the family, is shown as a money lender who cannot exist because of the restrictions against the Jews. He is forced to bribe the tax collector, hide his wealth, and deal surreptitiously. When he is about to die he orders his sons to found banking houses in the various capitals of Europe and tells them that the only way the Jew can gain the respect so that he can live with dignity is to acquire money and through that medium possess power.

The scene then flashes ahead thirty years and shows the Rothschilds firmly established as bankers in London, Paris, Vienna, Rome and Frankfurt. Nathan (George Arliss) is head of the London house and no more astute financial genius has ever appeared on a screen. His cleverness, his trick in getting the great post-Napoleanic War loan after it had been refused him because he is a Jew are faithfully told. The crisis in his life comes when Napoleon escapes from St. Helena and a new war is impending. The Frenchman offers the Rothschilds the largest rate of interest but they refuse because, as Nathan points out, the peace of Europe can be maintained only if Napoleon is defeated, and although the other nations are persecuting the Jews, Nathan is loyal to them. Before lending them money, however, he insists that the restrictions against Jews be lifted. How Rothschild alone saves the credit of England when things look blackest gradually brings the picture to a climax.


“The House of Rothschild” is a sentimental portrayal of the world’s greatest family of money lenders. History is not quite clear what made the Rothschilds back the allies against Napoleon, but this picture certainly gives the family the benefit of the doubt. In treating it as a family of human beings the producers of the picture likewise have not been too critical. They are shown as humble, modest men; kindly, intensely charitably interested in Jewish things, observing in religious matters and anxious, above all, to raise the status of the Jew. How the Rothschilds felt about each other we will never know but if they were nearly as loyal a family as 20th Century Pictures had made them, then they certainly are entitled to glorification.


It is obvious that this picture will be of great interest to Jews. The scenes in the Ghetto, showing how the Jewish quarter was chained up every night, how the Jews lived, what they looked like, how they were treated by the Gentiles, are vividly produced. Of particular moment is a series of camera shots picturing a “pogrom” with the Jews fleeing in panic from a vicious stone-throwing mob which has been egged on by governmental officials.

Ten years ago we might have sat back and felt very sanguine about such things, but now they are a little terrifying and too close for comfort.

Make a habit of glancing through the classified advertising columns. They may have a surprise in store for you.

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