I love a great bit of character writing, and this is terrific.
By way of set-up: at this point we’re probably, oh, two hours into the movie. Oskar Schindler started the film by using Jewish investors’ money to buy a factory and he staffed it with Jews after the crackdowns resulted in Jews being forced to give up property and ownership and move into ghettos. Throughout the film, as the crackdowns become more and more severe, Schindler deftly spreads money around to many Nazi officials–including, most prominently, labor camp commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes)–to keep his factory running with more or less the same group of Jewish workers he’s been using all along. This makes Schindler an enormous amount of money.
But eventually, as Germany’s fortunes in the war are going south, the Germans decide it’s time to step things up. They shut down the labor camps and send everyone off to Auschwitz, a process that will probably take, as Goeth indicates, a month, maybe two, to get all the logistics right. (One of the fascinating things about Schindler’s List is that it depicts the developing Holocaust through the prism of it was all just work that needed done, which is probably one big reason it ended up being so easy a pill to swallow for the German citizenry…but I digress.) Schindler, horrified at the prospect of his workers going off to their deaths, decides to make one last big gambit: he’s going to launch a new factory near his hometown, and he wants his own workers to be sent to him to staff it.
But he has to convince Amon Goeth, who is a spectacularly evil and small-minded man, to make it happen.
That’s when this short scene takes place:
Now, the scene as filmed is fascinating: we’re looking at these two men, talking on the balcony, but we’re watching them through windows and doors. The key dialog is this:
GOETH: You’re probably scamming me somehow…if I’m making a hundred, you’ve got to be making three. Hmmm? And if you admit to making three, then it’s four, actually. But how?
SCHINDLER: I’ve just told you.
GOETH: You did, but you didn’t. [grumbles] Yeah, all right, don’t tell me. I’ll go along with it. It’s just irritating that I can’t work it out.
By this point, Schindler’s bona fides as a war profiteer who makes money hand over fist is so well established that he’s become something of a mythical figure to the very Nazis whom he’s spent years bribing. So when he lands on the idea that he’s going to have to spend an enormous amount of money on an operation that obviously will bring him little profit if any, he barely has to expend any effort at all to convince the Amon Goeths of his world, because he knows they will assume the exact opposite and that Schindler has put together another scheme that will line his pockets all the more. That he’s intentionally going to spend himself broke to keep this small group of Jews safe never enters their minds.
That’s just amazing writing: Goeth’s frustration that he can’t put the scam together because he knows there’s no profit in what Schindler is proposing, but because it’s Schindler, there has to be profit in it. It’s a great scene, and it unfolds in just about a minute of screentime.