Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1934. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Eleanor McGeary, Manuel Komroff, based on the diary of Catherine II. Cinematography by Bert Glennon. Produced by Josef von Sternberg. Music by W. Franke Harling, John Leipold. Production Design by Hans Dreier. Costume Design by Travis Banton. Film Editing by Josef von Sternberg, Sam Winston.
The role of Catherine The Great couldn’t be more tailor-made for star Marlene Dietrich if she had been carved out of fiction. Brought from her Prussian home to the palace of Peter II a shy and awkward young woman, Sofia Frederica is renamed Catherine by the queen (Louise Dresser), becomes acquainted with palace life, and ends up a great ruler who wins the hearts of her soldiers and, eventually her people. Of course, she was also a boycrazy little devil who enjoyed a good roll in the hay like the best of them. Josef von Sternberg gives us all of this, plus some incredibly elaborate near-operatic sequences involving the royal court’s many plush ceremonies. It’s far from being the definitive film on the woman as it takes more than a few historical liberties, but it captures a strong sense of decadence of the time.