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 »
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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 showering the corrupt duke with treasure and promises of even greater riches. As the Jew's schemes grow more elaborate and his actions more brazen, the dukedom nearly erupts into civil war. Persuaded by the Jew, the Duke all but scuttles the constitution and alienates the assembly by lifting the local ban on Jews in Stuttgart. In a final outrage, the Jew rapes a wholesome German girl and tortures her father and fiancée. When the Duke succumbs to a sudden heart attack, the assembly of Elders try the Jew and sentence him to death for having "carnal knowledge of a Christian woman". Written by
Kevin Rayburn <email@example.com>
Leading actor Ferdinand Marian first refused to play Oppenheimer, but was forced to relent when Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels threatened the safety of his stepson, who was half Jewish. See more »
The film tells that Joseph Süß Oppenheimer lived in the Jew Alley (Judengasse) in the ghetto in Frankfurt before he moved to Württemberg. Actually he lived in Württemberg, since his birth in Heidelberg. Even his first meeting with Karl Alexander, before he became Duke of Württemberg was in Bad Wildbad, a place in Württemberg See more »
I loved "Jud Suss," both the film and the character.
Loving this movie was disturbing. "Jud Suss" was commissioned and overseen by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister and Reich Plenipotentiary for Total War. The film was shown before Nazis began rounding up Jews. "Jud Suss" played a direct, horrific, role in the Holocaust. You can't talk about this film without that nightmare hovering over every word you say.
I ended up writing a long essay entitled "Loving Jud Suss." The essay is now linked from my homepage. I hope interested readers will have a look and share their thoughts. I'll try to convey the gist here.
First, this is a well-made, vintage, costume melodrama slash swashbuckler. If you like Golden Age, black-and-white, big budget, studio adaptations of popular novels set in the eighteenth century, chances are you could enjoy many aspects of this film: palace intrigue, fast pace, romance, period detail.
I watched "Jud Suss" as if on split screens. The Nazis want the viewer to see an amoral, crafty Jew who destroys the life of a German city, Stuttgart, by introducing ballet, flirtation, and parties, by instituting a tax to improve the region's poor roads, and by allowing Jews entry to the city. I resisted what the Nazis wanted me to see. I like ballet. I live in a state with toll roads; good roads have to be paid for somehow. I don't think that allowing Jews, or any minority, out of their ghetto and into previously segregated neighborhoods is a bad thing.
I could *also* see what the Nazis did not want me to see. I could see how the film lays bare the self pity, sense of personal victimization, and exaggerated view of the power of the other that is at the heart of racism and prejudice. The main German characters in "Jud Suss" are pathetic. Faber is a ninety-pound weakling and insufferable bigot. He can't even consummate a kiss, never mind a marriage, with his beloved, Dorothea. Dorothea is beautiful but simpleminded and insincere. She wants Suss but can't handle her own desire. Councilman Sturm, Rader, and Duke Karl Alexander are all obese, shouting, ineffectual old men. That Nazis held up blowhard Sturm and prissy bigot Faber as the heroes of the piece tells you how skewed and how foreign to our modern sensibilities was the Nazi value system.
In seeing both what the Nazis wanted me to see and what they did not want me to see, I could see the absurdity and ethical and intellectual bankruptcy of Nazi ideology. That exercise made this one of the most fascinating film watching experiences I've ever had.
Ferdinand Marian, as Joseph Suss-Oppenheimer, made this movie. He is on screen for almost the entire film; even when he is not, he is the super potent center of others' attention. Marian's is one of the most riveting, charismatic performances I've ever seen. I could not take my eyes off him from his first scene to the last.
Off-screen events add to the unforgettable quality of Marian's performance. The story is that Marian did not want to take this role, and was so distraught when Goebbels forced him into it that he got drunk and destroyed his own apartment with an ax. Marian died in a car accident, and the rumor is that he killed himself, because of this role and its horrible history.
All the principles involved in "Jud Suss" made some excuse or another to try to get out of it. Goebbels tightened the screws and forced them into it. They later claimed that they did everything they could to make Suss as sympathetic as possible under the circumstances.
I read Ferdinand Marian's "Jud Suss" as an unforgettably sympathetic character. Even as I was watching the film, even as I was seeing it on a split screen, with the Nazi version on one side and my own interpretation on another, I also saw the tumultuous surrounding events. I saw the real Joseph Suss Oppenheimer, an historical figure who was tortured and executed in eighteenth-century Stuttgart. His killers kept his body on display for six years. I saw Ferdinand Marian, the actor, forced to act in a film he wanted no part of. I saw Jud Suss, the character in the movie, a lone Jew surrounded by bigoted, narrow, primitive proto-Nazis who made his, and their own lives, a misery, because they insisted that only Jews could be so perverse as to bring culture, modernity, and eroticism to a decent, clean, lifeless German city. My sympathy overflowed for Suss the character, Marian the actor, and the historical Suss-Oppenheimer. A Nazi propaganda film achieved the feat of rendering the German characters in the film universally repulsive, and the one Jewish character irresistibly sympathetic. That being the case, it's all the more tragic that Marian ended his own life over this role.
Scholars emphasize the charisma and appeal of Marian's depiction. In fact, the director, Veit Harlan, reported that Marian received "baskets of love letters." It is more than a bit weird that one of the sexiest overtly Jewish characters in the history of cinema is a character in a Nazi propaganda film.
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