House of Rothschild, The (1934): Zanuck Biopic, Directed by Werkel, Starring George Arliss


In this lavish Zanuck biopic production, directed by Alfred L. Werker, the honroable British actor George Arliss,  closely associated with his Oscar-winning role in “Disraeli,” plays Mayer, the founder of the Rothschild emopire, and then Nathan, his prodigal son.


A prologue set in Prussia in 1780 states that financial careers were the only legit ways for Jews to emerge out of the ghettos.  But more important to the understanding of the text is when the film was made, in 1934, in the midst of the Depression and the New Deal.

According to Nunanly Johnson’s liberal, fictionalized script, based on the play by George Hembert Westley, Nathan achieved his success, placing his own assets and resources, while fighting to save Europe from Napoleon’s greedy empire-building.  The film offers all kind of interesting details about the expansion of Mayer Rothschild’s humble financial enterpise, and the various insider deals which brought his shrewder son Nathan to position of fame, riches, and power.

As was the norm at the time, the film casts non-Jews in the lead and supporting roles, such as Loretta Young, as his daughter, courted by Captain Fitzroy (Reobert Young), and most memorable of all Boris Karloff, as the villainous Count Ledrantz. A scene from this picture was used as agit-prop in the Nazi film The Eternal Jew.


The movie used the innovation of three-strip Technicolor for the grand finale, in which Nathan achieves social acceptance along with a knighthood from the Prince Regent.


Oscar Nominations: 1


Picture, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, with William Goetz and Raymond Griffith


Oscar Context


The House of Rothschild competed for the Best Picture with nine other films: The Barrets of Wimpole Street, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Here Comes the Navy, Imitation of Life,  It Happened One Night, One Night of Love, The Thin Man, Viva Villa!, and The White Parade.  It Happened One Night swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture.


George Arliss – Mayer Rothschild / Nathan Rothschild
Boris Karloff – Count Ledrantz
Loretta Young – Julie Rothschild
Robert Young – Captain Fitzroy
C. Aubrey Smith – Duke of Wellington
Arthur Byron – Baring
Helen Westley – Gudula Rothschild
Reginald Owen – Herries
Florence Arliss – Hannah Rothschild
Alan Mowbray – Prince Metternich
Holmes Herbert – Rowerth
Paul Harvey – Solomon Rothschild
Ivan F. Simpson – Amschel Rothschild (as Ivan Simpson)
Noel Madison – Carl Rothschild
Murray Kinnell – James Rothschild