Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The House of Rothschild (1934)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

George Arliss, a leading star of the early sound era of Hollywood, has not achieved the same level of posthumous fame as many of his contemporaries, despite being one of the most versatile, respected actors of his era. Arliss was the go-to guy for leading roles in biopics, starring in the title roles in Alexander Hamilton, The Iron Duke, Voltaire, Disraeli, Cardinal Richelieu, and others. Arliss was the first British actor to win an Academy Award, and also the first Best Actor winner for a sound film, for his 1929 film Disraeli. The House of Rothschild stars Arliss in the dual roles of Mayer and Nathan Rothschild, the patriarch of the Rothschild family and his son, who led the English branch of the family.

The House of Rothschild, after introducing the Rothschild family through Mayer Rothschild, focuses on his son Nathan's role in financing the Duke of Wellington's campaign against Napoleon. Despite being about one of the most fascinating conflicts and series of battles in history, the film drags for long periods of time and is without much action. This is partly due to a creaky screenplay, but is also largely due to the difficulties of making the financing of a war terribly interesting. The film is very much in the fashion of the biopics of the day, but stands out in its portrayal of anti-Semitism, following Arliss's earlier portrayals of Benjamin Disraeli, who was of Jewish descent. The film was later used in the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew, but that film took The House of Rothschild completely out of context, which is a sensitive and non-prejudiced portrayal of Judaism and of the Rothschilds.

The film received a Best Picture nomination as its sole nomination. The film never stood a chance, losing to the juggernaut It Happened One Night, which one every major award that year, and rightfully so. Surprisingly, Arliss was not nominated for Best Actor. Only three actors were nominated that year: Clark Gable for It Happened One Night, Frank Morgan for The Affairs of Cellini, and William Powell for The Thin Man. Arliss suffered from the limitation of the time of only nominating three actors for the award, though he likely would have faced stiff competition with Wallace Beery in Viva Villa!, James Cagney in Here Comes the Navy, and Frederic March in The Barretts of Wimpole Street for any additional slots.

The House of Rothschild is most notable for the excellent performance by George Arliss and its outstanding portrayal of the anti-Semitism during the time of the Napoleonic Wars (and, more importantly, of the 1930's), but for long stretches just isn't very interesting or worth watching.

Remaining: 3171 films, 882 Oscars, 5458 nominations

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