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USA 1934
Directed by
Josef Von Sternberg
110 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Scarlet Empress

Josef Von Sternberg described his over-the-top historical biopic " a relentless excursion into style". Released the same year as another lavish but comparatively modest account of the life of Catherine II, (The Rise Of ) Catherine the Great, it was the sixth of seven collaborations between Von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich.

Von Sternberg assembles a treasure trove of sexual provocation, admittedly mostly implied (the Hays Office was on the prowl at this time), and unlike its commercially less-successful competitor, shows little regard for historical accuracy, the screen being largely a canvas for the director to indulge his cinematic idealization of Dietrich. Sam Jaffe plays her degenerate husband with histrionic excess whilst Louise Dresser takes the part of her mother-in-law, Empress Elizabeth. Dietrich's real-life daughter Maria Sieber (aka Maria Riva) appears as the 7-year-old Catherine in the early scenes.




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