The Scarlet Empress (Catherine the Great)
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The Scarlet Empress (Catherine the Great)
Of the two 1934 film versions of the life of Russia's Catherine the Great, Josef von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress was the most opulent and exotic. Marlene Dietrich plays the German-born Catherine, who is required to marry Russia's mad Grand Duke Peter (Sam Jaffe, decked out in a Harpo Marx wig). As if her joke of a marriage isn't torment enough, Catherine must endure the excesses of her new mother-in-law, Empress Elizabeth (Louise Dresser). Eventually, Catherine finds solace -- and romance -- in the form of Count Alexei (John Lodge). But even this balm is denied her when the… More
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Critic Reviews from Rotten Tomatoes

"Josef von Sternberg's 1934 film turns the legend of Catherine the Great into a study of sexuality sadistically repressed and reborn as politics, thus anticipating Bertolucci by three decades."
‑ Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
"Running a solid hundred minutes, the film first shocks and stimulates the imagination, and then, lacking the dramatic skill to refresh its audiences, becomes steadily duller."
‑ Andre Sennwald, New York Times
"They don't get much better than this."
‑ Tony Sloman, Radio Times
"Von Sternberg's most realized film that combines a brilliant spectacle of royal pomp and mise-en-scene with Harpo Marx-like silent comedy."
‑ Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews
"A thrilling historical pageant, featuring one of the most mind-blowing mises-en-scenes ever created for a film, plus iconic performances by Dietrich, Jaffe, and Dresser."
‑ Nick Davis, Nick's Flick Picks
"A tedious hyperbole in which Director Josef von Sternberg achieved the improbable feat of burying Marlene Dietrich in a welter of plaster-of-paris gargoyles and galloping cossacks."
‑ , TIME Magazine
"The decor and costumes, and the mise-en-scÚne that deploys them, have never been equaled for expressionist intensity."
‑ Tony Rayns, Time Out
"Not the most successful of Dietrich and von Sternburg's collaborations but interesting nonetheless."
‑ , Film4
"It's a complex, poetic, fantastical, and truly great movie."
‑ Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
"Sternberg belongs in the very top ranks of any list of the greatest filmmakers of all time -- and nowhere is this more apparent than here."
‑ Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
"Josef von Sternberg becomes so enamoured of the pomp and flash values that he subjugates everything else to them. That he succeeds as well as he does is a tribute to his artistic genius and his amazingly vital sense of photogenic values."
‑ Variety Staff, Variety
"The film tells the story of Catherine the Great as a bizarre visual extravaganza, combining twisted sexuality and bold bawdy humor as if Mel Brooks had collaborated with the Marquis de Sade."
‑ Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"Overstuffed with indulgent, idiosyncratic performances using every accent from Budapest to Brooklyn, the film is like a flower so strange and so beautiful it could only have germinated in the hothouse environment of a major Hollywood studio."
‑ Matt Bailey, Not Coming to a Theater Near You
"Unhinged and marvelous; it walks a thin line between melodrama and farce."
‑ Jake Euker, F5 (Wichita, KS)
"The filmmaking is invigorating, with some of the images standing out as originals to this day."
‑ Jeremy Heilman, MovieMartyr.com
More reviews for The Scarlet Empress (Catherine the Great) on Rotten Tomatoes