Dizzy society matron Emily Kilbourne has a habit of hiring ex-cons and hobos as servants. Her latest find is a handsome "tramp" who shows up at her doorstep and soon ends up in a ... See full summary »
Norman Z. McLeod
Upon its initial release in 1932, the movie was the subject of a lawsuit issued by Prince Feliks Yusupov, who had actually been involved in the death of the real Grigory Rasputin. Although names in the film were changed (Yusupov's character, as portrayed by John Barrymore, was called Prince Paul Chegodieff), Yusupov also recognized Diana Wynyard's character of Princess Natasha to be that of his wife, Princess Irina. the Yussoupovs sued for libel as a result of a scene which suggested that his wife had been raped by Rasputin. MGM lost the suit, and the scene was cut from later releases. It rendered Wynyard's character somewhat incomprehensible if the viewer of the film is unaware of the cut - in the first half of the film, Princess Natasha is a supporter of Rasputin, and in the second half, she is inexplicably extremely afraid of him. The laserdisc release of this film includes the original theatrical trailer, which contains a portion of this deleted scene. See more »
Although considered to be a mystic, Rasputin was neither a monk and nor was he unmarried. He had left behind a wife and several children in his native village on the outskirts of Russia. See more »
By now, everyone - but everyone - has commented on what bad history this movie is. Fine, I won't argue the point. But, what about it as drama? In my opinion, this is one of the most powerful tales of tragedy of it's time. ( This is particularly noteworthy given MGM's later penchant for frivolousness. ) Part of it has do do with the sincerity and conviction of the story. [ Alhough Charles MacArtur and others are given credit for the screenplay, I believe the original story - I have read a copy of the book - was written by a Russian émigré who fled the revolution. Unfortunately, I am presently unable to locate my copy. ] Nonetheless, this would go a long way towards explaining the movie's passion.
As for the acting; it features an outstanding cast, including the three Barrymores, as well as an assemblage of first rate supporting actors of the time. ( Anyone notice Edwarld Arnold as Dr. Remezov? ) Of course, much of it seems dated by today's standards. ( This was 1932, after all. ) Keep in mind that this is high melodrama. In that context, Lionel Barrymore exudes pure evil as the scheming, mad monk. He also brings out the crudity and vulgarity of the man, which generally jibes with historical accounts. Just try not to dwell on the fake beard.
John is fine and properly earnest as Prince Chegodieff, although his performance does seem a bit old-fashioned next to Lionel's. He really lets it all hang out in the murder scene, however. Ethel seems a trifle stiff, but Ralph Morgan is just right as Nicholas. In fact, sincerity and seriousness of purpose seem to be the hallmarks of the entire ensemble. And through it all, there is this sense of tragic inevitability; of events that, once set in motion, cannot be reversed.
One other thing that warrants a mention is the music. The Russian Orthodox liturgical music used in the celebratory scene near the beginning is moving and powerful. It could well put one in mind of the the wedding scene in Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" ( 1978 ). Later, there is a medley of martial music, accompanied by historical footage, as Russia mobilizes for The Great War. Here we hear "God Save the Tsar", a tune which Mikhail Glinka featured in his opera, "A Life for the Tsar", but which was routinely banned during Soviet performances. All in all, exciting stuff.
This is a movie well worth watching, historical accuracy notwithstanding.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?