Adapted from George Hembert Westley’s play by Nunnally Johnson, the famous Jewish banking family spreads into five nations of Europe and loans money to the Allies to help them defeat Napoleon.
A sign states that on Jew Street “All Jews must be inside the Jew Street by Sundown, Chancellor of Prussia.”
Mayer Rothschild (George Arliss) works as a money-changer. He sits at his desk counting money and tells Mama Gudula Rothschild (Helen Westley) that he made 1,000 guldens since morning. He talks about the agent who is planning to rob the Rothschilds, and he let the man have a clock for less than it cost him. He says he should always make them think they are clever. He finds a gulden coin that is faulty and complains, but he plans to catch the mackerel in the end. She says the roast is almost is done. Young Nathan Rothschild knocks and comes in and tells them that the tax collector is coming. Mayer alerts his boy and hands a chest of money to Nathan who hides it. Mayer and Mama put on old robes, and she tells two boys to look hungry. Mayer tells her to hide the roast, and they take it off the fire.
The tax collector and two others knock and come in. He asks Mayer for his account book, and he shows it to him. He says he has not seen a gulden for days and worries he may soon starve. The tax collector says it smells good, and he asks him to take out his real books. He does well and must pay 20,000 guilders in taxes. The tax collector notices a trap door under a rug, and Mayer says they have wine down there. Mayer says he may be able to pay 2,000 guilders. They go down the stairs to the cellar, and the tax collector taps on the wine barrels and checks to see that it is wine and calls it slop. Nathan gives him some better wine, and the tax collector says it is good. He says Mayer told him the truth, but he will charge him 20,000. He asks if he would like to pay 2,000 again and asks what it would be worth to him. Mayer offers him 1,000, and he asks for 10,000. They negotiate and agree on 5,000. He says if they breathe a word, he will have their house burned down. He leaves, and Mayer says it is bad; but Nathan says it is not as bad as 20,000, and they laugh.
A man comes in and tells them that the man who was bringing their 10,000 guldens from Hamburg was waylaid by the tax agents, and they got the money, though he got away. Mayer tells his sons that they have to fight for their people. He says he has to cheat the tax collector. He says they are persecuted because they are Jews, and only money can defend them.
Mama brings his five sons into his bedroom, and Mayer tells them to do what Mama says so that they will grow rich. He warns Nathan about sending gold in his coach. He advises his sons to start banking businesses in different countries. From her in Frankfurt they can send a message to Nathan in London. He says there will be many wars, and nations with money to transport will come to the Rothschilds. They must be one family that works together, and that will be their power. Mama says she will be there. Mayer says that neither business nor gold will bring happiness to their people. They must live with dignity.
Thirty-two years later they have established banks in the five countries, and Napoleon’s armies are taking over Europe.
Prince Metternich (Alan Mowbray) tells Solomon Rothschild (Paul Harvey) that they must have 15 million florins to defeat Napoleon. Solomon says he must contact Nathan in Napoli because they made him head of the family.
The Rothschild in Napoli tells a prince that he will consult his brothers.
In Paris the banker Carl Rothschild (Noel Madison) explains it is difficult for them to help the allies against Napoleon, but a man says he will be secret and that they must have 50 million francs.
At the Frankfurt bank Count Ledrantz (Boris Karloff) says he is there by necessity, and they must have five million guilders. The banker says he will consult his brothers and that Nathan in London will make a decision.
At the London bank Herries (Reginald Owen) tells Nathan that one more loan may give them victory. He realizes that the house of Rothschild has already contributed ten times more than any other bank. Captain Fitzroy (Robert Young) quotes the Duke of Wellington that he would not trade the Rothschilds for any five of Napoleon’s brigades, and he asks for five million pounds. Nathan Rothschild (George Arliss) says they will let him have ten million if he will smash Napoleon.
After the defeat and exile of Napoleon to Elba the English honor the Duke of Wellington (C. Aubrey Smith) with a toast at a banquet. Wellington asks Herries why Rothschild was not there. Wellington says he will call on Nathan Rothschild, and Captain Fitzroy says he knows where he lives.
Captain Fitzroy kisses Julie Rothschild (Loretta Young), and she says she loves him. He says he will call on her father and has rehearsed his speech a thousand times. She does not forget that he is a gentile and that she is a Jewess.
Wellington talks with Nathan about the crowds outside. He says Europe will realize how much they owe the Rothschilds. Nathan says their principle is to end wars. He realizes that Europeans are ashamed that they have to borrow from Jews. They both hate Count Ledrantz and hope he will be hanged. Wellington says it is dangerous he is in authority. Nathan says that Napoleon is in exile, but he is not dead. They drink brandy and toast the peace of Europe. Wellington tells him the secret that they are going to loan France a great deal. Nathan says the banking firm that makes that loan will get ahead. Nathan orders his servant to send a message. Count Fitzroy and Julie come in and talk to Wellington. He asks Nathan if he knew Napoleon was going to abdicate two days before the war office did, and he asks how he did it. Nathan says a little bird whispers in his ear. Wellington says goodbye and leaves with Fitzroy. Julie asks her mother Hannah Rothschild (Florence Arliss) and her father Nathan about marrying Count Fitzroy. Hannah says a girl should be allowed to make her own choice. Nathan asks what the Fitzroys did during the war, but he embraces Julie who goes out. Rowerth (Holmes Herbert) comes in, and Nathan tells him to send messengers to each of their banks.
The four other Rothschilds work on gathering their capital for the French loan. A newspaper announces that today the Allied Council at Downing Street will decide which bankers will make the French loan.
Nathan comes downstairs, and Julie makes sure that he looks good. Nathan says which national leaders will be at the meeting for the largest loan in history. He says no other banking firm in Europe can match their bid, and he goes out.
Nathan tips the coachman less than his daughter Julie and says she has a rich father.
In the meeting Nathan is told to remove his hat. Herries stands and announces that the greatest loan will be made by Baring and Company in London because their bid was the highest. Nathan stands up and takes exception that his bid was higher. Herries asks Count Ledrantz to explain, and he says their bid was thrown out on a technicality. Nathan asks what that means, and Ledrantz confirms that it is because he is a Jew. Nathan says these attacks on his race are ignorant and futile. He says they are eternal. He asks about the other quarter, and Herries says it is taken up by Metternich and others. Nathan leaves the meeting.
Nathan comes home and hears Julie playing the piano. She sees him, stops, and asks the news. Nathan says they have been throwing stones at them. He says they rejected him because he is a Jew. He tells her she must give up Count Fitzroy; but she argues with him because she won’t give him up. Hannah comes in and asks what happened. He tells her that they gave him the service of showing him what would happen if Julie married Fitzroy. Julie goes out, and Nathan tells Hannah to send Julie away. Rowerth comes in, and Nathan says that Metternich and the others have no money; but Rowerth says they will make millions. Nathan says that Baring is taking the loan at 71, but they are going to offer it at 74. Nathan says they can launch theirs at 73. He asks what happens if someone runs these bonds down, and they fall down to 63. He says they will wait for it to go up, but he says it will go down.
At the exchange Rowerth tells Nathan it is down to 53, and Nathan tells him to keep selling. Others complain about what Nathan is doing to the market.
A messenger goes into another room and tells Baring (Arthur Byron) and others that it is down to 52. Count Ledrantz asks Baring what he can do. Baring says he put their entire resources into the run, but he cannot stop them.
Nathan tells Rowerth he is tired of losing money and would like to win some. Baring comes to him and says pressure was put on him, and Nathan knows it is Ledrantz. Nathan tells him that he will follow him. Nathan asks Rowerth how much it has cost them so far, and he says about five million pounds. Nathan says he will make ten.
Nathan goes into the room to talk with Baring and Ledrantz who says that Baring will sell him half of his share. Nathan asks Ledrantz about the other quarter which he says they must pay 71 for. Ledrantz says no one ever pays the full amount. Nathan says he is prepared to pay anything. He says they are financially irresponsible except Baring. They all may be ruined including Baring, but he will rescue them by buying their shares for 68. Ledrantz says no; but Baring says his offer is generous, and they must accept. Nathan asks them to sign the contract he has drawn. Ledrantz says he is sure of himself, and he signs. Ledrantz tells the Jew that he won his fight with him, but victory may be bought too dearly.
Nathan gets a message from Amschel Rothschild that anti-Jew riots have broken out in Frankfurt. Nathan says he is going to Frankfurt.
Nathan gets out of a carriage and sees men throwing rocks. He knocks on a door of a Jewish home and is let in. Inside he talks with the elderly Gudula Rothschild who plans to live to be a hundred. She asks about Julie, and Nathan says she has her own ideas. Gudula advises him to leave her alone because she is no fool.
Count Fitzroy on a horse asks which house is the Rothschild house, and the man throws a rock into a window and says that is it.
Fitzroy talks with Julie, and they kiss. She asks how long it took him to get there, and he says the Duke gave him permission. He says he will have it out with her father. She says she has him and will keep him. They kiss, and he asks her to wear a ring his mother wore. Nathan comes in and asks why Fitzroy is there. He says he came because Julie was in danger. She says it is no use and goes out. Nathan says he has good reason to keep him apart from his daughter, and they discuss it. Nathan objects that he is not of their race. He says Jewish people are being killed by his people only because they are Jews. He says Julie will not marry without her father’s consent and says goodbye. Fitzroy goes out.
Julie comes to Fitzroy in the street and kisses him, saying she will stay with him always.
Gudula and Nathan talk. She says they burned down the Levys house and may burn hers, but they are afraid of her. She tells Nathan to stop the money flow to Ledrantz. She says the lord will preserve them. Amschel Rothschild (Ivan Simpson) suggests that Nathan go to Ledrantz.
Count Ledrantz at a table laughs with his friends. He gets messages on the damage from the riots and laughs. He reads that the civic guard stopped some, and he asks who ordered out the guard. The messenger says that will stop. The messenger tells him that Nathan Rothschild is in Frankfurt. Ledrantz says if he tries to leave, he wants him arrested and brought there. Ledrantz says he will make the red shield of the Rothschilds red with blood.
Nathan says goodbye to Amschel and promises that he will get an agreement to end the pogroms. The shake hands, and he gets into a carriage. A man orders a soldier to seize his carriage and puts him under arrest. A messenger gives a note to Nathan who reads it and says that Napoleon has escaped from Elba. He says this means another war. Amschel says this means they must come to him. Nathan decides not to go.
The Duke of Wellington says he is going to retire, but he receives a message that the Corsican is back.
Ledrantz is given the news that France is mobilizing their armies for Napoleon.
Nathan helps Gudula walk, and she sits down and looks at her four sons. She says they are still the richest banking house in Europe. Amschel says they are still open to criticism. James Rothschild (Murray Kinnell) tells Nathan that he, Carl, Solomon, and Amschel are in peril. He says that Napoleon’s soldiers must be saved. He says that Napoleon asked for a loan from his Paris house, and he promised to double the interest his enemies pay. Carl Rothschild (Noel Madison) agrees that they should support Napoleon. Amschel says the Allies are dominated by tyrants from Austria and Prussia, and Solomon agrees that as Jews they are still in the Jew Street waiting for the chains. He says they must transfer their support to Napoleon. Nathan says they are right; but he says they still must fight Napoleon because they are the Rothschilds. He says until Napoleon is gone, there can be no peace in Europe for Jew and gentile. He says they must do what is right for the world. If they helped Napoleon, more people would be slaughtered. They must stand for peace. If they go down, they will go down with honor. Gudula says that is what his father would have said. The other brothers agree with him.
Count Ledrantz gets out of a carriage, and Nathan from a window sees him, Metternich, and Count Talleyrand (Georges Renavent) in the street. Julie opens the door and lets the three men in. Nathan welcomes them, and Metternich says that Count Fitzroy guided them to the house. Nathan introduces them to his mother, and Nathan says they were expecting them. Ledrantz says he is there at the request of the Duke of Wellington. They sit down, and Metternich says they have not always treated him well, but now they need him. Nathan says sometimes a general must retreat. The brothers asks them why they don’t go to other bankers. Nathan says they lend money for profit. He says Napoleon offered them twice as much, and they have accepted his offer. Ledrantz asks where Napoleon will get the money, and Nathan says he will steal it. Metternich says he thought they were for peace, but Nathan says Napoleon will give Jews their freedom. Ledrantz asks Nathan if they gave Jews their freedom, would they make the loan. Nathan asks if he can speak for his brothers, and they say yes. He asks for an agreement guaranteeing Jews their rights to engage in any trade, own land, and walk the world with dignity. Ledrantz says they would have to ask their governments. Nathan says they are their governments. Ledrantz says they accept, and a large rock comes through a window.
Later Nathan tells James that they need news from the field of battle and asks if he will do it. James says he will send word every day. Nathan hugs Gudula at the door and says goodbye.
Nathan and Hannah see Count Fitzroy with Julie, and Fitzroy says he is there at the command of the Duke of Wellington. Julie asks him for the ring, and she puts it on. Nathan says the whole war will not be conducted in romantic places. Julie gets in the carriage with Nathan who tells Fitzroy to come see him in London.
Newspapers report Europe’s new war with Napoleon winning victories. Nathan reads about a financial panic in London. He tells Hannah that very rich people have moral responsibilities, and he asks if she could bear to be poor. He says he is risking everything to buy stocks when everyone else is selling. She says he must do what he thinks is right, and if he fails, she will love him even more. He says he will be the richest man with her love. Rowerth brings a message from James and says Napoleon is preparing to fight the English. Julie cries and says Nathan gave Napoleon a hundred days, and this is the hundredth day. Nathan kisses her and asks her to hope.
James sends a message by carrier pigeon.
Nathan tells Rowerth that he must continue to buy to support the market. Rowerth says they cannot keep it up for two more hours until closing. Nathan tells him to buy, and Rowerth says his brothers are begging him to hold back. Nathan says he must hold up the market to keep England from going bankrupt. He insists on buying. Herries comes in and tells Nathan that a rumor says that Wellington was defeated. He asks Nathan to come to the exchange to steady the market and stop the panic. Nathan says he will come and goes out.
At the exchange Nathan is told it is too late. He tells men to buy. Baring asks Nathan about the rumor, and Nathan says he is buying. A man gives Nathan a flower from his wife, and he learns that she came to the exchange. He puts the flower in his lapel. Nathan gets news from James that Wellington is victorious at Waterloo. Nathan announces that Napoleon is beaten, but they do not believe him. He says he got a message by pigeon from the battlefield, and now they know his secret. He tells them to buy, and they do so.
At an elegant party women ask Nathan how it feels to be the richest man in the world. Julie is with Fitzroy. Nathan points them out to Hannah and says they are just as interested in romance as she and he are. Fitzroy congratulates Nathan who asks him which knee he kneels on before his highness. Nathan kneels before the Duke of Wellington who thanks him.
This biopic portrays the wealthiest family in Europe that had an influence in the Napoleonic wars and used their wealth to help defeat the imperial tyrant and to gain more rights for the persecuted Jews.