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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am a hypocrite; I only like movies which have great dialogue. My hypocritical exception is "The Scarlet Empress." You won't find great dialogue here, but don't fret; to ME, the dialogue is insignificant. This one must be SEEN to be appreciated.
Director Josef Van Sternberg, dubbed (correctly) "A lyricist of light and shadow" by one critic, proves this point in "Scarlet Empress" more than in any other of his films. Sternberg also knew he was losing Dietrich, and I like one scene where an actor is made up (from a side view) to resemble Sternberg. This actor is essentially the only one Marlene refuses her bed to, despite having no qualms about bedroom antics with half the Russian court. Sternberg projected himself into the role of Count Alexi, a character who has more screen time than anyone other than Dietrich. Alexi is teased by Dietrich and in the end he, um "doesn't get the girl." Sternberg knew he was no longer getting Dietrich and put this knowledge on celluloid with an awe-inspiring, even malicious fire. There are two things in this film which I really LOVE. The grotesque replicas which saturate the film are of course indicative of how the film will play out. The replicas, I suspect, were not easy or inexpensive to make--which makes them all the more fascinating, horrifying and MESMERIZING!
The background score. I have never seen a drama from the 1930s which used music more brilliantly than "Scarlet Empress." In a scene in a stable, when there is a chance that the two principals may make love, they are interrupted by the braying of a horse, which had been out of sight of the two. (According to many historians, this scene has much, MUCH deeper significance than it seems.) I cannot write what the historians have told to me on this board. It would be inappropriate. But before the horse neighs in that scene, Dietrich is twirling from a rope, and the music in the background lends immense eroticism to the scene, as does a straw which keeps going into and out of Marlene's mouth. The music combined with the beautiful lighting is stunning! There is also an opening torture scene which features a man swinging to and fro inside a huge bell, his head causing the bell to peal. Then, a quick dissolve to an innocent young lady who is flying high on her swing. THAT is a feat of genius!
If you can ignore some historical inaccuracies, which I suggest you do, and allow yourself to gorge on the beautiful lighting, music, as well as most scenes, I dare you to tell me that the film didn't MESMERIZE you! A TEN!
This pre-Production code film is a treasure throughout
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