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The Scarlet Empress Details


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 ambitious Alexei begins wooing the much-older Elizabeth. When the old Empress dies, Catherine ascends to the Russian throne, knowing full well that her addled husband would kill her at the slightest provocation. Soon her power outstrips Peter's, and the opportunistic Alexei now comes back into her life. The finale finds Catherine emerging triumphant over all her enemies -- and, in the film's least subtle sequence (which is saying a lot!), the new Empress is shown astride a horse, to whom she displays far more affection than any of her human compatriots. The Scarlet Empress has even less to do with accuracy than Paul Czinner's Catherine the Great of the same year, which starred Elizabeth Bergner. Watch for Dietrich's real-life daughter Maria Sieber (aka Maria Riva) as the 7-year-old Catherine in the early scenes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

  • Release date:September 15, 1934


Marlene Dietrich
as Sophia Frederica, later Catherine II of Russia
John Lodge
as Count Alexei
Sam Jaffe
as Grand Duke Peter
Louise Dresser
as Empress Elizabeth
Maria Sieber
as Sophia as a Child
C. Aubrey Smith
as Prince August
Ruthelma Stevens
as Countess Elizabeth
Olive Tell
as Princess Johanna
Gavin Gordon
as Gregory Orloff
Jane Darwell
as Mlle. Cardell
Harry Woods
as Doctor
Davison Clark
as Archimandrite Simeon Todorsky
John Davidson
as Marquis De La Chetardie
Gerald Fielding
as Officer
Edward Van Sloan
as Herr Wagner
Anna Duncan
James Marcus
as Innkeeper
Marie Wells
as Marie Choglokov
Eric Alden
as Lackeys
May Foster
Belle Johnstone
Eunice Moore
Dina Smirnova
Blanche Rose
as Aunt
Bruce Warren
Jameson Thomas
as Lt. Ovtsyn
James Burke
as Guard
Erville Alderson
as Chancellor Alexei Bestuzhev
Richard Alexander
as Count Von Breummer
George Davis
as Jester
Nadine Beresford


Josef von Sternberg
Manuel Komroff
Bert Glennon
Felix Mendelssohn
Featured Music
Josef von Sternberg
Composer (Music Score)
Josef von Sternberg
Richard Kollorsz
Art Director
Hans Dreier
Art Director
Peter Ballbusch
Art Director
Travis Banton
Costume Designer
Gordon Jennings
Special Effects