24 March 2013 | bkoganbing
"Money, the only weapon we have"
Before Paul Muni was doing biographical films at Warner Brothers, George Arliss was doing them before. Arliss a veteran of the British theater was one of the first to recognize the importance of film in preserving the actor's art. He did even more silent films than sound which took advantage of his magnificent speaking voice and perfect English diction. His acting today is considered hammy by many, but for me I like the idea of being able to understand every enunciated word.
In The House Of Rothschild Arliss plays the dual role of patriarch Meyer Rothschild and later Nathan, one of the five sons whom he dispatched to various European capitals to establish the family banking business. This was in the 1780s-90s. By 1814 the House is well established throughout Europe and even when countries are at war, The House Of Rothschild acts as a unit. Though the Paris branch has to be a bit discreet with Napoleon Bonaparte making war on all the rest of the places the brothers have set up shop.
The money lender is never a popular figure. It's the reason why when Jews were forbidden to own land and frozen out of certain businesses and trades, they were allowed to be bankers. That way it was a double whammy in unpopularity for them.
The House Of Rothschild even with Napoleon making entreaties to the Jewish people backs the Allied cause to the hilt. It wins the gratitude of someone no less than the Duke of Wellington played by Sir C. Aubrey Smith. But Prussian banker Ledranz played by Boris Karloff makes no secret of his anti-Semitism. Quite a daring piece for 1934 as Hitler was starting his war on the Jews and few were speaking out.
Florence Arliss the real life wife of George Arliss plays his wife Hannah in his Nathan persona. But Helen Westley is mother Rothschild and she gives a lively performance. It is she whom you will remember best from this film after George Arliss.
Robert Young and Loretta Young play a Wellington aide and a Rothschild daughter who fall in love and are the secondary romantic plot in this film. But it's Arliss's portrayal of the shrewd and intrepid Nathan Rothschild and the story of the fortune that is the heart of the film. And it is a big heart in every sense of the word.