…wealth and privilege, and privilege without wealth…

…as art imitates life

In Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century he points to the wealth of the ‘upper class’ (10%) in Europe, a wealth that would be decimated, even destroyed for several, during the two world wars, even if recuperating somewhat afterward. To support his view we have a look at the movies. This one is set during the World War II. In it we witness the strict class lines, social status to which there has to be unquestioned adherence, despite some aspirations.

The movie is Five Fingers (still on Youtube?) with the late James Mason, Danielle Darrieux, and Michael Rennie, the lead stars. It is a fictional interpretation of a true story. Aside the fact that the movie excels in the areas of script (couple faux pas, aside), dialogue, acting and drama, we have some classic one liners, with one especially apt and cutting. But first, some background.

The Countess Staviska is a refugee in Istanbul, Turkey, a neutral country, having had her property (wealth) in Poland confiscated, ‘requisitioned’ by Hermann Goering of the German military. She is destitute but her social status still affords her the luxury of invitations to social functions. An invitée to a cocktail party at which the German delegation is invited, she offers to work for the German government in Turkey if she can be lent or advanced some money with her property in Poland as guaranty, collateral. Rebuffed by the German General, she notices the attentive gaze of his aide who has come up. Then says Countess Staviska, ‘Please, Moyzich, don’t look at me as if you had a source of income other than your salary.’

Here we truly understand that income of that era comprised returns on wealth (e.g., land and bonds) and wages, where possession of the former might nullify the need for ‘toil’, ‘labour’, a profession. That reality clearly did not escape Moyzich, aside his possibly altruistic and other motives, as he excuses himself and scurries off.

…And that exchange was quite early in the movie…