The Scarlet Empress

1934

Drama / History / Romance

4
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 90%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 85%
IMDb Rating 7.7 10 4888

Synopsis


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July 05, 2018 at 08:02 PM

Cast

Marlene Dietrich as Princess Sophia Frederica / Catherine II
Sam Jaffe as Grand Duke Peter
Jane Darwell as Miss Cardell, Sophia's Nurse
720p.BLU 1080p.BLU
858.05 MB
988*720
English
NR
23.976 fps
1hr 44 min
P/S 1 / 9
1.64 GB
1472*1072
English
NR
23.976 fps
1hr 44 min
P/S 3 / 13

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Ron Oliver 10 / 10

Dietrich & Old Russia - A Fascinating Phantasmagoria on Film

An innocent & obscure German princess is sent to Russia to become the wife of Grand Duke Peter, heir to the throne. Her romantic dreams are shattered when she finds her new husband to be a childish imbecile. Quickly growing wise, she soon begins taking lovers from among the military guard. So begins the legendary life of Catherine, Tsarina of Holy Russia, The Messalina of the North, THE SCARLET EMPRESS.

A riotous feast for the eyes, this is one of the great, unheralded films of the 1930's - enthralling for its visual impact alone. Seldom has an American film been filled with such lush imagery - tactile, grotesque, fascinating. The Russian royal palace is a charnel house full of ghouls & gargoyles - human & artistic. The actors share the scenes with fantastic statuary, twisting & writhing in silent, unspeakable pain. (Notice the tiny skeletons on the dining table.) Everywhere is death, moral decay & barbarism, even in the most powerful court in Europe.

At the center of this ossuary is the gorgeous Marlene Dietrich. Her beauty radiates, but never dominates, throughout the film. She is splendid as a young woman in a very dangerous place, who gains courage & great determination in her ordeal. Equally good is Sam Jaffe as Peter; with his leering grin & demented eyes he is the very picture of a murderous madman.

Louise Dresser, as the Empress Elizabeth, is very effective as a comic bully. John Lodge & Gavin Gordon, as Catherine's military lovers, are both stalwart. Wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith has a small role as Catherine's princely father. Film mavens will spot an uncredited Jane Darwell as Catherine's nurse.

The highly emotional soundtrack, an amalgam of themes by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn & Wagner, explodes in the film's final moments into musical pyrotechnics.

Reviewed by theowinthrop 10 / 10

The Making of A Great Empress

Josef Von Sternberg thought very extensively about the effects he wanted in THE SCARLET EMPRESS. He wanted to push the cinematic effects to show the huge Russian Empire and to show the spirituality of the Russo Orthodox Church. Therefore the visual effects of THE SCARLET EMPRESS are quite striking, as is the anachronistic sound track (the music by Anton Rubinestein is very religious, but it is not from the middle of the 18th Century but from 100 years later). His use of candles - literally hundreds to get an idea of the Russo Ortodoxy of 1760 - works quite well to display the pageantry of the religion. And note the gargantuan doors used in the Royal palace.

In THE RISE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT, the story line suggested that Elizabeth Bergner's Catherine did fall for a handsome looking, but unstable Peter (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). But in reality Peter was an unstable and cowardly figure. Sam Jaffe's performance is far closer to Peter III of Russia (although one of his lines, when he says: "I hate my wife" is done too crazily to be realistic). He does look forward to ruling Russia, in order to send his wife (after a divorce) to a convent, and to marry whomever he wants.

But even Jaffe's Peter was not quite the historical one. Peter III may have been insane, but he had a tremendous affection for Prussia and it's ruler, Frederick the Great. Russian foreign policy in 1760 was that of Tsarina Elizabeth (Louis Dresser in this film). The Empress was allied with the French and Austrians against Prussia. One of the major policy changes that Peter III brought was to end this alliance with France and Austria. It affected Prussia's precarious position in the Seven Years War, and enabled Frederick to reorganize and defeat the Austrians and French. None of this is mentioned in either of the two films.

What Von Sternberg did get right here (not as well developed in THE RISE) was that Sophie/Catherine took the time she was married to the Grand Duke to study up on the Russian people, their religion, their customs. She was a very sharp woman (as her handling of the government would eventually show). Also Sophie/Catherine used her feminine abilities to make inroads with the nobility and military leaders, such as the fictional Count Alexei (John Lodge) and the real Captain Gregori Orlov. Many did become her lovers. One of them may have fathered the boy who would one day become Tsar Paul I of Russia This is hinted at in THE SCARLET EMPRESS (the scene where Jaffe is congratulated about his new heir gives that performer a chance to be quite indignant - a welcome change from his insanity characterization). Marlene Dietrich's cool beauty and wits come across as Catherine learns the fundamentals of her new country, and becomes fully prepared to take it over from her incompetent husband's hands.

I liked THE RISE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT, but THE SCARLET EMPRESS is a better done movie on all sides.

Reviewed by waxwingslain77 10 / 10

Unforgettable! What a visual feast!

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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