Jud Sussi is generally discussed in this language in terms of theological investment and political tendency, with the claim oft advanced that it is somehow remarkable under either aspect.
It is not. Suss the Jew is not more heavihandedly lutheran than the corresponding production in either US or England of the time is local-brand protestant ; nor is it more (or less) heavy-handedly normative in terms of either "what people should do" or "how society should be" than the average production of the time. The contrary view is at best unintelligent, pious fraud, but in general I expect it to be made of that oldest if poorest alloy of all : a base of poltroonism with insertions of whichever-way-wind-blows-today. As such, it is inexcusable, and perfectly immoral.
Jud Suss was an actual historical character : Joseph Suss Oppenheimer. He worked for the more-or-less historically accurate Karl Alexander, Duke of Wurtenburg. Whether the historical character was factually an ambitious young man trying to exploit political change and eventually ending up swallowed by it ; or an agent of unmitigated evil deliberately torturing mankind depends entirely on the viewer's bias. He is entirely and identically equivalent to the Jews then made famous by Hollywood -- bootleggers, arsonists, pimps, gamblers. There is no substantial difference of any kind between Ferdinand Marian character's here and say James Cagney's character in The Roaring Twenties : both men with nothing but their wits, who saw a chance, and took it, and eventually died of it.
Yes, the Jew gets called "the Jew" throughout the film. Similarily the Wop was called Wop, and the Hebe a Hebe. This doesn't make the 1940s Hollywood stories about Jewish gangsters specifically about Jews (even if the matter was substantially discussed at the time, except of course not in the Jewish-owned press), nor does it make this film anything else, and anything besides an early, simplified recount of big government.ii
The Duke has aspirations, you see. He wants an Airforce One, to be important (about in the same way the kids with the smallest dicks have to drive the largest cars). He wants a ballet, because he's not me to say plainly he will entertain slaves only, but aims to ooze himself unctuously into a similar (yet deniable!) position. He wants to make dancing girls propositions they can't refuse and, most of all, can't recount, that's pretty much the whole story.
These aspirations are fundamentally uprooting -- not because "they cost money", but because the sort of neurotic society which permits the irresponsible, self-disavowing lifestyle is incompatible with any kind of common sense, any kind of productive effort, and ultimately with any statement of sanity.
But this doesn't drive the aspirations away. It would have, but in the sort of man who wouldn't have ever aspired such nonsense in the first place. The duke's no such man, and so instead the nonsense simply inflames his aspirations further. He finds a very willing agent that'll bring about the necessary dislocations, but they proceed too quickly, and without sufficient skill. As a result the earth swallows them both, and that's the end of this story of an eager fat dork and the apprentice alchemist trying to strike it out "on his own" under his wing.
A drama, if you wish, a very low rent Doctor Faustus (is that also "antisemitic" ?). Such is the fate of films, with very rare exceptions they're going to be low rent versions of extant literature. Hardly a reason to hate the genre, and even less of a reason to hypocritically purport to hide that hate under the ridiculously tiny hat of political disagreement and anti-theological chaffing.iii
I wouldn't go so far as recommending it, as it's not all that great a movie ; but the curious as to a different perspective on 1940s style idiocy is more than welcome to compare and contrast this with the versions more familiar to him. It will doubtless be instructive, and in the proper sense of the term liberating.———
- 1940, by Veit Harlan, with Kristina Soderbaum and Ferdinand Marian [↩]
- You know the story, "tax and spend", for which gotta tax, for which need a standing army and corruption of the laws, which destroys commerce, which drives the vicious circle. [↩]
- As an amusing curlicue, the original jew was actually hung for "trying to restore Catholicism". You know, like Thomas More.
Oh, and he was given the chance to escape through conversion, which he also refused to do. You know, also like Thomas More. [↩]