In this notorious Nazi propaganda historical costume melodrama, a conniving, ambitious Jewish businessman, Süß Oppenheimer, snares a post as treasurer to the Duke of Wurttemburg by ... See full summary »
German financier Josef Süss Oppenheimer vowed to attain power at any cost in order to help his brethren in the Jewish ghetto of Württemberg and his friendship with Field Marshall Karl Alexander pays off when the war hero inherits a Duchy. Süss becomes the unscrupulous Duke's Minister of Finance and is able to build schools and hospitals for his people but the beginning of the end comes when the lecherous Duke tries to rape Süss' daughter and she commits suicide. Süss concocts a brilliant plan for revenge but it kills the Duke and the financier's arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for having sex with Gentile women, an old law that hadn't been enforced for hundreds of years. He's offered an out if he converts to Christianity and he'd kept the fact his father was Christian a secret ...but will Süss save himself?
Süss is warned early on not to underestimate anti-Semitism which was "here in 1430 and will be here in 1930" so it's easy to see Lothar Mendes' elaborate historical biography as "positive propaganda", a response to the rise of Hitler and the closing epilogue asks for an end to prejudice, hoping it "falls like the Walls of Jerico and people can live as one." (yeah, tell that to ISIS) Here, Süss is portrayed as a philanthropic opportunist foolish enough to think he could harness evil for the greater good and the opulence of the eighteenth century aristocracy is vividly contrasted with the poverty of the Jewish ghetto by German émigré Mendes. Conrad Veidt's tormented martyr, guilty only of being too smart for his own good in a bad world, recalls the actor's THE MAN WHO LAUGHS and is positively riveting. Cedric Hardwicke's Rabbi Gabriel is the financier's solemn moral conscience and Benita Hume (a Mrs. George Sanders) is also very good as the "let them eat cake" Duchess. The U.S. title was POWER and the adult, sexually frank narrative must have been trimmed quite a bit for its release here.
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