The Scarlet Empress (1934)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.5

USA, 1934.  Screenplay by , , based on the diary of .  Cinematography by .  Produced by Josef von Sternberg.  Music by .  Production Design by Hans Dreier.  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by Josef von Sternberg, .

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.

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