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Film / Jew Süss (1934)

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Jew Süss (US title Power – Jew Süss) is a 1934 British historical and romantic drama film directed by Lothar Mendes and based on Lion Feuchtwanger's eponymous 1925 novel. It stars Conrad Veidt, Benita Hume, Frank Vosper, Cedric Hardwicke, Gerald du Maurier and Pamela Mason.

In the 18th century, after working his way out of the Jewish ghetto of Württemberg, Josef Süss Oppenheimer sacrifices all to gain political power out of personal ambition and to improve the condition of his people, who are subjected to intolerance.

Should NOT be confused with the 1940 German film of the same name. Both are based on the same novel, but the key difference is that the 1940 film is antisemitic propaganda, whereas the 1934 film actually condemns antisemitism.

Jew Süss provides examples of:

  • Costume Porn: Jew Süss was one of the most expensively costumed movies ever made in Great Britain at the time.
  • Greedy Jew: Subverted. People in the kingdom of Württemberg are quick to invoke this trope against Süss out of the need of a scapegoat as their economic situation gets more and more dire, but the portrayal of Süss as a tragic figure and moreover the portrayals of Jewish people are sympathetic. Süss seeks power to improve the condition of his people and the gentile nobles are portrayed as the actual villains.
  • Mark of Shame: Rabbi Gabriel (Cedric Hardwicke) had to sew a symbol (historically yellow, the film is in black and white) on his clothes to mark him as Jewish.
  • Period Piece: The film is set in the 18th century and boasts costumes and settings accordingly.
  • Truer to the Text: The novel's writer, Lion Feuchtwanger (who was Jewish himself), intended his portrayal of Süss as a study of the tragedy caused by the human weaknesses of greed, pride and ambition, and the film sticks to this. The 1940 German film turned it into a purely antisemitic slur meanwhile.