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The House of Rothschild (1934)

Director: Alfred L. Werker, Sidney Lanfield
Starring: George Arliss, Boris Karloff, Loretta Young, Robert Young
Not Rated   Running time: 88 minutes

I was aimlessly surfing around Youtube this morning and came across this film. It's from 1934, and purports to tell the story about the most powerful banking family in the known universe -- the Rothschild's.

If you've ever listened to Alex Jones's INFOWARS show, or have ever even stumbled upon any conspiracy-oriented website, then you're probably already familiar with the name. The House of Rothschild has existed for hundreds of years, and many claim that the banking family have been secretly controlling the world from their secret hideouts in parts unknown. The Rothschild family has been blamed for everything from the Civil War to the current push for global warming legislation. Presumably, this influence comes from their stranglehold on the global banking system.

In short, the Rothschild's control the world, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Is this true? Did one family, quietly amassing power and wealth and passing it from generation to generation, manage to grab the steering wheel to the planet and steer all nations, all men in whatever direction benefited them the most?

I don't know, but I love a good story. Apart from some slow sections, this movie is actually quite entertaining. George Arliss stars (in dual roles) as Mayer Amschel Rothschild and his oldest son Nathan. The film follows the family from their days in Jewish ghettos, to their rise to power as the leaders of an insanely rich banking cartel with branches all over the world.

Of course, you can't have a film like this without a villain, and here that role is filled by the great Boris Karloff. Karloff plays Count Ledrantz, a powerful businessman who takes great delight in being antisemitic and trying to destroy Nathan Rothschild.  It's a very restrained performance from the horror great. I think people forget the Karloff was more than a nearly mute, undead monster (Frankenstein), and was a very capable actor with a terrific screen presence. For me, he's the main reason for watching "House of Rothschild."

Also notable is the final scene, in which the film magically transforms from black-and-white to three-strip Technicolor, a Hollywood first. Also worth mentioning, a scene from this film was used in the antisemitic Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew, which was done entirely without producer Daryl Zanuck's permission.

Apparently, The House of Rothschild is full of factual errors. I won't go into them here, because the history of this family is much too deep for me to recount accurately. What I can say is that is a little too simplistic, a little too good versus evil to paint truly accurate portrait of this legendary and somewhat notorious family. However, it's a pretty neat curio from another time, and is full of excellent performances, particularly from Karloff and Arliss. It's worth a watch if you're ever in the mood for an old movie that is still (somewhat) relevant today. Just be sure to take The House of Rothschild with a grain of salt.

Because it's (for now) in the public domain, the entire film is presented below.


Intermission: Big, Bad Wolf


The Mother (2003)

Director: Roger Michele
Starring: Daniel Craig, Anne Reid, Steven Mackintosh, Cathryn Baldwin
Released by Sony Pictures

Having read the plot description for "The Mother", I was reluctant to watch the film. A film about an elderly woman who begins an affair with her daughter's lover sounds as if it might make for a somewhat disturbing experience. And I was right. "The Mother" is a very disturbing film, for a number of reasons not limited to the concept of geriatric sex.

May (Anne Reid) and Toots (Peter Vaughn) are a couple who have been together for over thirty years. May is healthy and alert, while Toots ambles along, perpetually out of breath, every movement labored. The pair take a trip to London to visit their adult children; Bobby (Steven Mackintosh), the successful and somewhat aloof son, and Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), their more down-to-earth but excessively needy daughter. On the first night of their visit, Toots suffers a heart attack and dies. The children can't bear the idea of having to take in their newly widowed mother; she simply has no place in their lives. May senses this and returns to the home she shared with her late husband. She doesn't stay away long. Thoughts of a solitary, purposeless life consume May; she says she would rather die than to spend her remaining years as an old widow, lonely and forgotten, waiting for death in a nursing home.

May returns to London, determined to find some role in her children's lives. Paula just so happens to need a babysitter and May is more than happy to step in. May is almost invisible to her children; the old lady spends her days running errands and cleaning Paula's house, while her self-absorbed children carry on with their busy lives. The only person who treats May as a living, breathing human is Darren (Daniel Craig), a married handyman who is renovating Bobby's house. Darren is sleeping with Paula, a fact that May discovers after catching the two in the act. May becomes enamored with Darren, and begins slowly courting the much younger man. Their romance becomes physical and May begins to experience the life that she wants, one that she was never able to live previously. Bobby and Paula discover the affair, shocked and disgusted by what their mother has done. Hostility was already lurking beneath the surface of their relationship with their mother--the affair is the final straw. Paula seeks revenge against her mother, leading to a devastating climax.

"The Mother" is a well-made film. The performances by the film's leads are nearly flawless. In fact, this BBC-funded production is excellent in every way, technically speaking. It is shocking; the explicit sex scenes between Reid and Craig are hard to endure. I found myself wondering why I didn't trust my instincts and avoid watching this film, as my fears of seeing a naked old lady engaged in frequent sexual acts were confirmed. For the love of god, don't watch this movie with your grandma. However, the film does not rely on over-the-hill erotica for its power. The interaction between these characters is quite upsetting on its own, as nearly everyone in this is a butthole.  May, Paula, Bobby, Darren, all of them. These are people who simply don't care about each other, held together only by a sense of obligation to "family". They hold each other close only to inflict damage upon one another, trapped in a cycle which is not hard to imagine repeating long after the closing credits have rolled. No one in this film acts out of love or compassion, only selfishness. You keep watching out of hope that someone is going to break out of this destructive loop, but that moment never comes. You are left with nothing but images of Daniel Craig getting jiggy with an old lady.

"The Mother" is a film which is masterfully made, but is nearly impossible to pass judgment upon. The characters are neither likeable or unlikeable, the situations they find themselves in both preposterous and plausible.

Much like life itself.