Review

  • From the new Eclipse box set Alexander Korda's Private Lives. I debated on whether or not to buy this one. I love The Private Life of Henry VIII, starring Charles Laughton, but haven't seen the others. They don't have very good reputations. And I usually say that I like neither biopics nor costume genres. Yet, strangely enough, I do like loopy historical biopics where the filmmakers have no real sense of history. They can be a lot of fun. The Rise of Catherine the Great is a pretty uneven film. It has its overly stuffy moments, and the acting is all over the place. The sets and visuals are nice, though not quite as opulent as in the other Catherine the Great movie made the same year in Hollywood, The Scarlet Empress. Neither of these movies are great, unfortunately. Neither are very well directed. The Rise of Catherine the Great works somewhat because of a couple of performances in it, as well as a small handful of excellent scenes. Elisabeth Bergner plays the titular character. Unfortunately, she's one of the most uneven parts of the film. As the ingénue Catherine, she's quite annoying. Her strong German-accented English makes her sound mentally retarded at times. But she is rather good later in the film when she is learning the ropes of royalty, or when she's trying to quell her husband's anger. The husband, Grand Duke Peter, is played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. He might be the best thing about the film. Can't say I'm overly familiar with his career, but his performance is extremely good here. Flora Robson is also quite good as the empress Elisabeth.