7.7/10
5,045
46 user 41 critic

The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Passed | | Drama, History, Romance | 7 September 1934 (USA)
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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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

In his autobiography, director Josef von Sternberg claimed that he borrowed ten feet of film (all of which was a crowd scene) from Ernst Lubitsch's film The Patriot (1928). When von Sternberg showed the film clips featuring the borrowed footage to Lubitsh, he not only failed to recognize his own film, he chastised von Sternberg for "willful waste and disregard of costs." See more »

Goofs

When the flag is being lowered for the dead empress, we see the flag flapping in the wind but the fake backdrop is flapping also. See more »

Quotes

Grand Duke Peter: I want to play with my toys!
See more »

Connections

Featured in Film Preview: Episode #1.1 (1966) See more »

Soundtracks

Rondo Capriccioso in E Op.14
Written by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Excerpts incorporated into the score often
See more »

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User Reviews

Worship
7 April 2008 | by tedgSee all my reviews

A life in cinema leads sometimes to a life of and about love.

Often its fictional or fictionalized love stories that are in the movie itself. But much more fascinating are the love stories that drive the movie, and for me, the most engaging of these are when a director, directs an actress (usually and actress) with whom he is in love — and sleeping with.

Sometimes it is subtle, but often not — the way the camera lingers, the way the staging is manipulated, the way the situations are bent in the service of love. The least interesting of these engagements is simple worship, as we have here. But in this case its so extreme it has its own charm.

The story is that there was a mundane but driven filmmaker, a copyist, and a pretty actress with adventuresome sexuality who coupled. This transformed them both and film along the way.

She developed a stage persona for him, and he leveraged her and his cinematic worship of her into a career. This was their greatest adventure, probably because after 6 years, he had to do something extreme. We benefit. Now this movie is horrible in all the non-worship parts: the acting, the story are miserable. The score is effective but simply bombastic.

Its all the visuals that are amazing. Some of this is cinematic in nature, meaning related to the camera itself: lights, placement, movement, occlusion. But the key thing is her face — never her body — in the context of these bizarre images and settings. We start with a child, then explicitly sexual torture, then highly eroticized ripeness. These images set the tone for the larger situation: the entry into the perverted reality of Russia.

She enters this strange, demented version of the church, with odd gargoyles in ordinary rooms, with immense spaces and gigantic doors, everything twisted a bit. Its based on images and setups from Eisenstein's Ivan films. It leverages the fear we've always had about their strange religion, and their dark sexual intrigues.

Against this, we have three sexual phases starting with the erotic innocent, whose wondering eyes the camera hypnotically explores. Then we have the open sexual opportunist, the schemer, the favor provider.

And finally the triumphant hedonist, the white furry goddess whose sexual confident stride charms a nation.

They aren't the roles or context I would have chosen. That they were engineered so is visually intriguing. Curiously rather than sensuously engaging. But engaging nonetheless. Theirs must have been a bed of negotiation, roles, mercurial power and force.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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