Marcel L’Herbier‘s film of the Emile Zola novel by the same name is a spectacular large-scale production that depicts the world of financial markets and speculators. It involves oil wells, intrigues, deals and corruption, all captured in fascinating images that harness the stylistic devices of French avant-garde film and an unleashed camera. At the heart of the film is the duel between two bankers who are bound together by their love affairs with beautiful Baroness Sandorf, played as a seductive vamp by METROPOLIS star Brigitte Helm.
Of the French films of any consequence recently produced, L’ARGENT, which takes its inspiration from the novel of Zola bearing that title, is the most noteworthy. It is not a simple realization or even a close adaptation of the work of the great writer, and some critics have, with an appearance of justice, questioned the right of the author of the film to appropriate, though indirectly, the prestige of Zola’s name. M. Marcel L’Herbier has taken from the novel the general idea of the worship of Mammon and the tragic play of one man's speculations on the lives and fortunes of others. In harmony with this general conception, the whole surroundings of the story have been modernized, and one of the most important episodes in the piece is a transatlantic flight, which Zola would have considered better placed in a romance of his contemporary, Jules Verne, than in one of his own. Leaving aside the pretty quarrel about the respective rights of deceased authors and very live film producers, it is best to take M. L’Herbier's work on its merits. He has made a powerful film. The action has the proper volcanic energy. The recurrent pictures of the Bourse, taken from all sorts of curious angles – they are photographs of the real Paris Bourse – are cleverly employed to reiterate the main idea of the tyranny of money. There is a striking night view of the Place de l’Opéra crowded with the promenaders of the Fourteenth of July. In the tensely dramatic scenes, several of which are powerfully conceived, the acting, especially that of Alcover and Brigitte Helm, is arresting.
W. l. Middleton, in: The New York Times, 3.3.1929