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Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild
(1934)

(SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild, that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew.

That scene, set in Frankfurt, Prussia in 1780, certainly might not be the best one to forward the notion that The House of Rothschild is sympathetic to the Jewish experience. “Always make them think they’re clever” advises George Arlis’ crafty Mayer Rothschild to wife Gudula (Helen Westley), rubbing his hands in stereotypical fashion, for all the world a proto-Fagin. Relegated to Jew Street and banned from owning property or other means of making a living, the family puts on a show of poverty for the tax collector in highly broad and humorous fashion, hiding their coinage and pretending the smell of their roast belongs to a neighbour. The scene finishes up with haggling for a bribe (“Money is power! Money is the only weapon the Jew has to defend himself with”).

So yes, Hollywood was in there early, massaging the stereotypes, both pro and con, playing up the oppression angle and the justification for untrammelled capitalistic leanings. There was no chance The House of Rothschild was going to introduce a Gordon Gekko moral lesson to the mix. Arliss, who’d won Best Actor four years earlier for Disraeli, shrewdly advises his five sons to set up banking businesses in different countries throughout Europe, developing the art of the balance sheet as a means to avoid the theft of physical funds sent by coach (instead, the brothers will simply send each other letters when funds are required, exchanges offset by loans. Doubtless not usurious when applied to themselves). Sage old Mayer is imparting most of this on his death bed, warning there’ll be many wars in Europe, which is where the Rothschilds come in: “Remember, unity is strength”.

Lest you assumed this were all about money, though, banish the thought: the family will never find happiness until their people are free to trade and walk the Earth with dignity. We duly leap forward 32 years to find five successful bankers led by Nathan (also Arliss) in London. The spectre of Napoleon looms large, but fear not, the brave Rothschild boys are there to save Europe, judiciously funding nations in the war effort, but operating under a strict moral code, for “he told us never to loan money to make wars, always end them. And that’s been our principle”. Nathan’s good pals with snuff-snorting Wellington, who tips him off to a nice little earner from the French rebuilding effort.

Alas, the Rothschild bid is thrown out on technicality (they’re Jewish) and Nathan retaliates with some quite brilliant scheming; running down a previous government bond to ensure the one they’ve been excluded from will bring ruin to its participants, unless they, the Rothschilds, swoop in and save it. We’re continually assaulted with their – and by extension, the Jewish people’s – long-suffering uprightness; Nathan has done more for the Jews of England than any man who ever lived and “It’s queer isn’t it? We fight for the peace of Europe and with peace, we lose our power”.

In due course, however, with dastardly Nazi Karloff encouraging anti-Jewish riots, “That blasted little Corsican is back!” And so, the Rothschilds are needed again. Nathan overrules his brothers’ wish to fund Napoleon, because they should “stand as we always stood, not for war but for peace” and “do what is right for the world”. If this sounds entirely unlike any banking institution that ever existed, I’d hazard even the Rothschilds would were faintly embarrassed by such glowing attributes.

This tale culminates in the ultimate retconned heroic act – Nathan making a packet on the stock market; he’s “risking everything to save the credit of England”. It’s a gambit that leaves him “holding more than any man ever” and the richest man in the world. Wholly deserved, I’m sure you agree. Thus, the movie redresses the popular “myth” that Nathan appeared on the floor of the stock exchange and began selling huge numbers of British Government Bonds, knowing this would induce the belief that Napoleon had won at Waterloo and thus panic selling of bonds en masse. Which Rothschild promptly snapped up cheap, now nicely devalued.

Obviously, many versions of family events are not so glowing. One can go back to the reading of the Bauer family changing their name for nefarious reasons, owing to their really being Khazarians and one of the Satanic bloodlines (The House of Rothschild includes a subplot about daughter Loretta Young’s wish to marry a gentile. Mayer favoured inter-familial marriage: to preserve the gene pool, obviously). Then there’s Mayer being involved in the creation of the Illuminati. And in pitting the American North against the South in aid of a “divide and conquer” strategy. Of course, entertaining any conspiracy theories regarding the Rs, can only means one thing. As opposed to, you know, viewing any tendencies towards the accumulation of great power and wealth as inherently breeding corruption, an arena that can extend from your basic tangible to full-on spiritual warfare.

Why would anyone believe a banker during wartime would veer patriotic (Anthony Sutton has documented how this was very much not the case)? The Independent and Wiki present the case that any slurs against the Rothschild family’s behaviour during the Napoleonic conflict– or just generally – are anti-Semitic in basis, so whether or not they’re warranted becomes irrelevant. Wiki states the idea that the Rothschilds used knowledge to financial advantage was a fiction; rather, they informed the government (predictably, this is the family-sanctioned position). Now, maybe they did (inform the government). But you can bet, if they did, it was because they considered it would be propitious to do so in terms of their long-term financial interests.

It has been suggested that, during the gold scam (not covered in the movie), Nathan was funding Wellington while Jacob was funding Napoleon. One might reason this would simply be the sound business sense of an amoral financier. As all bankers inherently are: the idea that bankers have scruples is, of course, fundamentally laughable, so it is therefore logical to assume, in any given situation, that the morally and ethically unimpeachable angle simply does not come into consideration, withstanding or notwithstanding any legal restrictions on taking that position (banks are, after all, habitually state-sanctioned because the institutions have the real power). And the perfect rebuff, in the Rothschilds case, should concern ever be voiced over such alleged activity, is to dismiss the charges as anti-Semitic. You can’t really go wrong. Even when photos of nightmarish dinner parties show up.

Anything Rothschild related is, then, a rabbit hole and a minefield, not least because it’s almost impossible to navigate without stumbling across leading biases or the attempted avoidance thereof. Bankers are not generally treated to cinematic raves, regardless of their family history. Imagine, for a moment, Gordon Gekko engaged in all the altruistic things Nathan fosters here. What’s that? Money Never Sleeps? Oh, good grief. And just how many countries are there without a Rothschild-owned central bank? Quite clearly, they're for the benefit of the entire world.

While director Alfred L Werker does little very impressive with the frame, Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay (from George Hembert Westley’s play) is frequently very witty. “There he goes, longing for the peace and quiet of the battlefield” observes Nathan of Wellington, departing into a crowd of Press. Called out by a coachman on account of his daughter providing better tips, Nathan responds “Julie has a very rich father, and I don’t”.

The House of Rothschild received just the one Oscar nom, for Best Picture, so I doubt it ever stood in likely stead (twelve were nominated for the top prize that year). One wonders how biopics such as this get financed, but it seems there was a musical too (nominated for a Tony in 1971). One can only assume the family are, or were, keen on such self-promotion, although the movie was, it seems, an Arliss passion project. Which is quite un-Elite-ish. It’s been suggested the picture was, in fact, a misfiring attempt at positive propaganda, but since it’s now largely forgotten, it presumably had little influence either way (well, outside of Nazi Germany). As for the report that Mad Mel is making a movie "coincidentally" titled Rothschild, well on a certain level of movie financing, I guess any publicity is good publicity.


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