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The Scarlet Empress (1934)

A German noblewoman enters into a loveless marriage with the dim-witted, unstable heir to the Russian throne, then plots to oust him from power.

Writers:

Catherine II (based on the diary of), Manuel Komroff (diary arranged by)
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Airs Fri. Nov. 16, 10:00 AM on TCM

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1 win. See more awards »

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

Directors: Paul Czinner, Alexander Korda
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Elisabeth Bergner, Flora Robson
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Marlene Dietrich ... Princess Sophia Frederica / Catherine II
John Lodge ... Count Alexei
Sam Jaffe ... Grand Duke Peter
Louise Dresser ... Empress Elizabeth Petrovna
C. Aubrey Smith ... Prince August
Gavin Gordon ... Capt. Gregori Orloff
Olive Tell ... Princess Johanna Elizabeth
Ruthelma Stevens ... Countess Elizabeth 'Lizzie'
Davison Clark Davison Clark ... Archimandrite Simeon Todorsky / Arch-Episcope
Erville Alderson ... Chancelor Alexei Bestuchef
Philip Sleeman Philip Sleeman ... Count Lestoq (as Phillip Sleeman)
Marie Wells Marie Wells ... Marie Tshoglokof
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski ... Ivan Shuvolov (as Hans von Twardowski)
Gerald Fielding Gerald Fielding ... Lt. Dmitri
Maria Riva ... Sophia as a Child (as Maria)
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Storyline

Young Princess Sophia of Germany is taken to Russia to marry the half-wit Grand Duke Peter, son of the Empress. The domineering Empress hopes to improve the royal blood line. Sophia doesn't like her husband, but she likes Russia, and is very fond of Russian soldiers. She dutifully produces a son -- of questionable fatherhood, but no one seems to mind that. After the old empress dies, Sophia engineers a coup d'etat with the aid of the military, does away with Peter, and becomes Catherine the Great. Written by John Oswalt <jao@jao.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Reigning Beauty of the Screen!

Genres:

Drama | History | Romance

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

7 September 1934 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Catherine the Great See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$900,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Film production was reportedly held up for several weeks over Marlene Dietrich's desire to wear a large, fur hat. Costume designer Travis Banton initially refused to relent to Dietrich's demands, because he felt that such a hat was worn by Greta Garbo in Queen Christina (1933) and he did not want to copy the design. Dietrich argued that audiences would not remember what Garbo wore; Banton ultimately relented and Dietrich got her hat. See more »

Goofs

Peter's Holstein guard is falsely referred to as Hessian. This may have been deliberate to make use of the bad reputation of Hessian mercenaries in the American Revolutionary War. See more »

Quotes

Archimandrite Simeon Todorsky: [collecting money for the poor] Your Imperial Majesty, something for the poor?
Grand Duke Peter: [slaps him]
Archimandrite Simeon Todorsky: That was for me. Now what have you got for the poor?
Grand Duke Peter: There are no poor in Russia! Get out!
See more »

Connections

Featured in Stars of the Silver Screen: Marlene Dietrich (2013) See more »

Soundtracks

Symphony No.4 in F Minor, Op.36
Written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Excerpts played during the opening credits and incorporated into the score often
See more »

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User Reviews

A Masterpiece of Hollywood Weird
23 October 2002 | by jkogradySee all my reviews

This picture is absolutely one of the oddest damn things ever to come out of the old Hollywood studio system. Von Sternberg himself called it "a relentless exercise in pure style" and he wasn't kidding. Where to begin? For starters, it marks the apex of Sternberg's worship of Marlene Dietrich (worship is hardly too strong a word; it might not be strong enough). His justly famous expressionistic lighting, brilliantly shot by Bert Glennon, dazzles the eye throughout. During the wedding ceremony, for instance, the whole scene is lit by what must be 10,000 candles and is shot through a variety of diffusion materials; in one shot Dietrich's face can hardly be more than a foot from the camera lens but there is a candle between them, and fabric as well, making her face waver and melt into the sensuous texture. This scene is largely silent, and the movie as a whole, though made in 1934, is often silent with music only. Rubinstein's "Kammenoi-Ostrow" arranged for chorus and orchestra plays through the whole wedding scene while Sam Jaffe, a wonderful and versatile actor, plays the insane Grand Duke Peter like Harpo Marx on bad acid. The dialogue throughout is just plain weird, and the mise-en-scene far weirder. Sternberg has created an entire fictitious style for this movie that might be called Russian Gothic. The buildings in no way resemble the airy rococo palaces where the real Empress Elisavieta Petrovna spent her time; rather we are given a nightmarish phantasmagoria of wooden architecture with railings and balustrades carved into the shape of peasants in attitudes of great suffering, and vast doors which armies of ladies-in-waiting struggle to open and close. The aftermath of a brutal feast is portrayed with a skeletal tureen stand presiding over the indescribable flotsam and jetsam. Louise Dresser is a hoot as Empress Elizabeth, never mind the accent; and I also like John Lodge, although I didn't at first; the aplomb with which he delivers his outrageous dialogue finally won me over. Please ignore all the stupid stories about Catherine the Great and horses that you may have heard; there isn't an ounce of evidence for any of them. Instead relish the opening of this gloriously crazy movie: Edward van Sloan, in his best "Dracula/Frankenstein" mode, reading to the little girl Catherine about Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, as we dissolve to fantastic scenes of barbaric torture, culminating in a shot of some peasant being used as the clapper of a bell, which dissolves to the sweet young adult Catherine of some years later on a swing. In the 18th century, swings were considered highly erotic, and Sternberg misses none of this. She is called away by a servant, and runs breathlessly into the parlor where her parents are receiving the Russian envoys. Her actions are literally choreographed to the music as she bobs and weaves around the room, kissing hands and saluting her elders. This is pure cinema, and absolutely nuts, but glorious. Take a good strong snort of whatever your favorite mind-expander may be (a dry red wine with a shot of Stolichnaya under it is my recommendation in this case) and blast your brain with a truly strange movie made by real artists.


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