Alexander Korda produced this lavish film, "The Rise of Catherine the Great," starring Elizabeth Bergner, Flora Robson, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. It's the story, not wholly accurate but still interesting, of, as the title suggests, Catherine the Great's (Bergner)ascension to the throne as it was wrested from her crazy husband Peter (Fairbanks). Though in the film this all seems to happen somewhat quickly, Catherine and Peter were married for 17 years and had children before the Empress Elizabeth dies and Peter becomes tsar.
In the film, Peter cheats on Catherine on their wedding night, and she pretends to take many lovers. This makes him jealous, and the two reconcile. However, after the Empress Elizabeth dies, the decisions that he makes as tsar on behalf of Mother Russia are outrageous, and Catherine is encouraged to go along with a coup.
Wide-eyed, girlish Bergner is Catherine. Bergner was a noted stage actress in Europe who unfortunately never caught on in Hollywood; nevertheless, she worked in Europe until she was 87 years old. Supposedly an incident in her life was the inspiration for "All About Eve." Tiny, she nevertheless had authority as an actress, with line readings that were at times reminiscent of Garbo. She is a good Catherine. The showier roles were those of the Empress Elizabeth and Grand Duke Peter. Flora Robson is a wonderful Empress Elizabeth, and Fairbanks, always an underrated actor, is brilliant as the volatile, mad Duke.
Worth seeing for the performances.
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