The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Passed   |    |  Drama, History, Romance

The Scarlet Empress (1934) Poster

A German noblewoman enters into a loveless marriage with the dim-witted, unstable heir to the Russian throne, then plots to oust him from power.


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Cast & Crew

Top Billed Cast


Josef von Sternberg


Manuel Komroff (story- based on the diary of Catherine the Great)

Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews

16 March 2007 | MOscarbradley
| A masterpiece of kitsch
It may be kitsch and the most OTT of all spectacles but it has its own magnificence, (it's a masterpiece of kitsch). There is a delirium about the film that very few film-makers have matched. Today few film-makers would want to. In a way it re-defines camp; it has all the trimmings but with an intelligence and a bravura sense of cinema that lifts it into a different dimension altogether. The 'deliberate' ham acting of most of the cast, the broad American accents and the idiosyncratic dialogue are all at odds with the whole look of the film, its visual extravagance and the huge Expressionist sets. At times it looks like a silent film with its wordless passages and use of inter-titles and like the great silent epics it uses its imagery to propel its narrative.

It's not about the reign of Catherine the Great, (it ends when she comes to power), but rather it's about her early life at the Russian Court and her disastrous marriage to the mad Grand Duke Peter, (Sam Jaffe, emoting like a demented Ken Dodd). But the plot doesn't seem to matter either. It's as if Von Sternberg only seems interested in the trappings of power, in the minutiae of court intrigue rather than in the intrigue itself, (in this respect it's a bit like Sofia Coppolla's "Marie-Antoinette"), and, of course, in Dietrich he has a magnificent Catherine. Dietrich may have been the greatest 'non-actress' that ever lived. Beloved by the camera, she simply had to react. No director ever had a subject as fetishistically adored and of all their collaborations this was their greatest achievement.

Critic Reviews

Did You Know?


During production, when director Josef von Sternberg's perfectionist style of film making proved to be too overbearing for Marlene Dietrich, Dietrich and her friend and purported lover, Mercedes de Acosta, hatched a plot to convince the director to abandon his grueling directorial style. In a particularly-frosty period of production, when Dietrich and von Sternberg had not talked to one another off set for three days, de Acosta told Dietrich to fake an injury by falling off of a horse. Dietrich did as her friend asked, toppling from a horse during filming and pretending to be unconscious. De Acosta had supplied a "doctor" for the situation and the doctor rushed to Dietrich's side. The doctor claimed she had passed out from overwork. The incredibly-contrite von Sternberg took it easy on his starlet for the rest of the shoot, and their working relationship was repaired.


Empress Elizabeth Petrovna: So, this is the mother. You've raised a pretty child.
Princess Johanna Elizabeth: Your Imperial Majesty, I've come to lay at your feet feelings of the deepest gratitude for the benefactions which your bounty has heaped upon my house, and of which many instances are given me at ...


After Catherine stamps with her foot on the gold locket containing the portrait of Count Alexei, smashing it, she then flings it out of the window. The camera follows it as it falls slowly, glistening in the moonlight, through the branches of the tree outside her window, but it is completely undamaged.


A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op.61
Written by
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Excerpts incorporated into the score often


Plot Summary


Drama | History | Romance

Box Office


$900,000 (estimated)

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:


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