A Royal Scandal (1945)

Approved   |    |  Comedy, Drama, History


A Royal Scandal (1945) Poster

In 18th century Russia,the naive and idealistic lieutenant Chernov meets Empress Catherine the Great who becomes infatuated with him and appoints him Chief of the Imperial Guard.


6.8/10
870

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8 March 2006 | tentender
Tallulah in the second (and last) film of her best period
...but, oh, so much more. This film is, as other posts have already indicated, a buried treasure. Produced and prepared by Lubitsch, its source is the same as that of the Lubitsch-directed silent "Forbidden Paradise" (1924, starring Pola Negri, Adolphe Menjou and Rod La Rocque), considered by critic Paul Rotha to be Lubitsch's most brilliant film. "A Royal Scandal," surprisingly, has taken a critical drubbing over the years, and director Preminger professed not to like it. (It should be remembered, though, that Preminger, when interviewed, was often vague about his films.) Seems that Otto, though a great admirer of Lubitsch (and who was not?) did not feel comfortable with "the Lubitsch touch," which, he says, too often sacrificed character for easy laughs -- and, in this case, required an empress to act unlike an empress. Perhaps -- but on the other hand, on the evidence of this film, Preminger's mastery of the Lubitsch touch was thorough. The film is brilliantly paced (rapid fire and crackling dialogue throughout), superbly acted, magnificently designed and photographed, and scored very creatively by Alfred Newman. One sees the seeds for Tallulah's famous (though by now, sadly, near forgotten) offstage character in her shameless cruising of the young soldier (William Eythe) who wants no greater glory than to be close to the throne. And at this point, she is young enough to pull it off gracefully, veering just to the edge of camp without crossing the line. Eythe is a more-than-promising comedian: his two brief blinks as the empress Catherine tells him that she can see in his eyes that he is "good and true" are alone worth the price of admission. (Scenes between the two of them comprise a good half of the film.) Charles Coburn is very wisely used -- a consummate reactor, he is often seen in the background tellingly reacting to two characters' interaction in the foreground. Which is not to say that he doesn't have his own very bright moments. (Catherine's chancellor, he is the character who makes all the wheels turn.) Anne Baxter brings fire and music to her role as Eythe's fiancée, and Vincent Price brings a great deal of wit to what is little more than a cameo as the French ambassador. Mischa Auer, too, is particularly good in this film (as he is not always). For once he is not required to pull out his heavy accent and -- surprise! -- he speaks perfectly excellent English! A thoroughly entertaining film, and perhaps if its director hadn't expressed his reservations it would have a better reputation today. In my opinion, it's really stronger and more of a "Lubitsch picture" than most any of the (in my heretical opinion) somewhat overrated Ernst's later efforts, "Heaven Can Wait" and "Cluny Brown", lovely as they are, notwithstanding: this one's a gem. Just released (March 2006) on a Columbia DVD in France. Not the most perfect print, but probably better than any seen in a theater for many, many years. (The French subtitles, on the other hand, can't be turned off, which is fairly inexcusable.) By the way, I watched this movie twice within a span of 24 hours and it was even better the second time. (Since this was written, there has been released in the U.K. a double bill DVD of this with "Margin for Error," Preminger's first film, which makes it something of a bargain, though "Margin" is hardly essential.)

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