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The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934)

Straightforward biography of the Russian empress, up to her assumption of the throne.


, (uncredited)


(story) (as Lajos Biro), (story) | 5 more credits »

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Complete credited cast:
Grand Duke Peter (as Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.)
Gerald du Maurier ...
Princess Anhalt-Zerbst
Dorothy Hale ...
Countess Olga
Diana Napier ...
Countess Vorontzova
Gibb McLaughlin ...
Bestujhev (as Gibb Maclaughlin)
Clifford Heatherley ...
Lawrence Hanray ...
Allan Jeayes ...
Colonel Karnilov


In 1745 a German princess, renamed Catherine, arrives to marry Grand Duke Peter of Russia, whom she initially likes. But his suspicious, unstable nature gradually estranges them, and Peter finds solace with pretty courtiers. Catherine invents her own (fictitious) lovers, temporarily improving matters. Alas, accession to the throne brings out the worst in Peter, and loyal Catherine is urged to assume power. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Biography | Drama


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Release Date:

9 February 1934 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Katharina die Große  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


In 1937, this film was shown on a double bill with Wives Never Know (1936) in Canada. See more »


When the Grand Duke Peter is talking with the guard at the bottom of the stairs about Ivan Ivanovich, the guard's crossed belts on his chest are repositioned when the scene cuts to a close up of the guard. See more »

Crazy Credits

Openng credits prologue: RUSSIA 1745



Referenced in The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (2017) See more »

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User Reviews

The Rise -- Not The Rule -- of Catherine.
2 September 2014 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is Peter III, the heir to the throne of Russia in the mid-1700s. A tempestuous character, he shouts out orders and is unhappy. Well, who wouldn't be? He's dressed in some kind of bear skin outfit and is made up like Frankenstein's monster, with a silver wig, black eyebrows, black false eyelashes, a black mustache, and two black beauty spots. He could clear a room without a gun.

His bride-to-be is brought to him from Germany. They've never met before and she mistakes him for an ordinary castellan of no particular prominence. He quickly twigs but Catherine carries on about how much she's dreamed of marriage to him and how little she cares for empire. It all sounds a bit like Fred and Ginger.

Gradually, Fairbanks comes to accept her as the genuine artless article and whisks her off to be married. This is quite a mental achievement for Fairbanks. After all, she's Prussian, not Russian, doesn't speak the language and is Lutheran rather than Russian orthodox. On top of that -- the real obstacle -- is that she was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg. I ask you, would you marry someone with a name like that? Even if she looked like Botticelli's Venus? So they called her Yekaterina.

As played by Elisabeth Bergner, who never looks more than vaguely cute, the new bride is all winsome and proud and overwhelmed by the sumptuousness of the Russian court. Flora Robson is Fairbanks' aunt, Empress Elizabeth, always impatient and angry. Florid Robson -- I mean Flora, of course -- was always some kind of Empress or Queen, whether in England or China or Russia. It didn't matter. She radiated disdain. She glowed with authority. Her Empress here is sexier than usual. In fact, young as she was, her big face was compellingly ugly. And she got what she wanted. Historically, she was a terrible rake and played doctor with everyone.

Alexander Korda's direction is functional and expressive. He really manages to capture the splendor of the court, even if it's rendered in fuzzy black and white. When Fairbanks and Bergner are married, the priest puts the wedding ring on Bergner's right hand, as he should.

This is no place to recount the history of Russia, so putting it in a nutshell: Robson dies, Fairbanks takes over, goes increasingly nuts, until Bergner finally consents to exile Fairbanks and rule Russia herself. The end. There is only the barest hint of what her rule would be like.

She became a benign dictator, brought Russia into the modern world, implemented all sorts of reforms, and corresponded with Voltaire. What we've watched is a filmed play about palace love and intrigue, and not a bad one. There are no outdoor scenes, not a shot is fired or a sword lifted in anger. Someone should have made "Catherine the Great, Part II." As it is, at Bergner's moment of triumph, she stands on a balcony, arms raised, listens to the cheering crowd, and almost swoons as she cries, "They love me!" And then the host presents her with the Academy Award.

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