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Rasputin and the Empress shouldn't be used as a lesson of pre-Soviet Russia. Names have been changed (and that didn't prevent MGM from law suits) and a lot of the information we now know about this period of Russian history - was not known in 1932.
As other people have commented about this being the only film that Ethel, John, and Lionel Barrymore appeared together, this movie doesn't show why the Barrymores have the reputation that they have. John Barrymore's career started going downhill after the introduction of sound. Lionel Barrymore, wearing one of the phoniest fake beards, tries to capture the charisma and sense of control that Rasputin had over Czarina Alexandra and the Czarevitch. Ethel Barrymore gives an understated performance - too understated at times. When her only son seems to be close to possible death, she doesn't seem all that bothered.
C. Henry Gordon is a great Grand Duke Igor, Ralph Morgan is a convincing Czar Nicholas II, but they don't appear that frequently. Don't expect anyone to speak with a Russian accent or even attempting and accent.
Rasputin is one of the most interesting people in the world during the early 20th Century. He was also one of the most enigmatic and contradictory. A holy man who was accused of raping a nun, excessive drinking, and being power hungry. Barrymore's portrayal of Rasputin plays this up, plus making claims that he will be Russia. He seems almost like Charles Manson at times in the way he can make someone, especially the Czarevitch, behave like they are totally different people compared to the way they acted before meeting Rasputin.
It is best to watch this movie as just that - a fictional representation of various accounts of what happened in the royal court of Russia in its final days. The writers included Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht, Robert Sherwood, Mercedes de Acosta, and Lenore Coffee - some of the best writers of the period.
It's worth a view - don't expect historical accuracy, but it is an interesting film that tries to show a much different world than what Americans would have known.
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