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Jew Süss (1934)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Rural Germany, 1730. Joseph Süss Oppenheimer, a wealth Jewish businessman, is staying at an inn when he discovers that a fellow guest at the lodging is the famed field marshall Karl Alexander. Seeing an opportunity to make a powerful contact, Süss loans him money for gambling. At first the soldier won't accept favours from a Jew, but his desire to gamble finally overcomes his distrust. Süss's show of generosity, and Alexander's run of luck at the card table, lands him a job looking after the field marshall's financial affairs.

Süss's Rabbi uncle visits him at Alexander's house, where he is bullied by the nobleman into reading his palm. According to the Rabbi, the field marshall will become a Duke, a claim dismissed by the skeptical soldier - for this to happen, both his cousin and the reigning Duke would have to die, and both are in good health. Süss is admonished by his uncle for having no contact with his daughter but the calculating businessman says that he has no time: he must worm his way into Alexander's trust so that he can gain power and influence - not for himself but for all Jews.

Alexander's cousin dies in a riding accident, followed by the death of the Duke - the title is now his. With Alexander's promotion comes more power for Süss, who has finally visited his daughter, hidden in a house in the woods. On his way back to Alexander's palace in Wurttemburg, Süss encounters a beautiful noblewoman, who later attends a party at the Duke's residence. Realising Süss is attracted to her, Alexander seduces her out of spite.

A market trader, who is picking on a Jewish stallholder, is admonished by his wife for being a bully. He strikes her with a bottle, accidentally killing her, and in a moment of panic decides to blame the Jew. An angry mob attacks his house in the belief that the woman was killed so that the Jewish trader could use Christian blood in a Passover ritual.

Süss is visited by his uncle, who pleads with him to ask the Duke to release the innocent man from prison but the request is refused - Süss claims he cannot jeopardise his position, but finally changes his mind when his daughter asks him to intervene. The Duke reluctantly agrees to his request.

Süss visits his mother where he is shown some letters from his dead father, who, it turns out was not Jewish. Suddenly Süss's desire for power and position seems pointless - why should he suffer anti-Semitic insults from the Duke and his court if he is not a Jew? Confused, Süss returns to Wurttemburg.

The Duke tries to rape Süss's daughter, who falls to her death from the rooftops in an attempt to escape. This finally shakes Süss from his uncertainty - he determines to rid himself of Alexander, and starts to plot against him. He tells the Duke that he could become Emperor by arresting some key figures of state and then abandoning the constitution. The power-hungry Alexander loves the plan, unaware that he is being set up - the people's militia is tipped off and the arrests fail to happen. Süss confronts the Duke, but the shock of his betrayal is too much and he collapses and dies.

Süss, realising that he had a major role in the Duke's rise to power, takes the blame for the planned coup and is sentenced to death. The only way he can gain his freedom is to convert to Christianity. Süss refuses - he was brought up a Jew and will die as one.