|The Scarlet Empress|
|Directed by||Josef von Sternberg|
|Based on||The diary of Catherine the Great|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
The Scarlet Empress is a 1934 American historical drama film starring Marlene Dietrich and John Lodge about the life of Catherine the Great. It was directed and produced by Josef von Sternberg from a screenplay by Eleanor McGeary, loosely based on the diary of Catherine arranged by Manuel Komroff.
Even though substantial historical liberties are taken, the film is viewed positively by modern critics.   The Scarlet Empress is particularly notable for its attentive lighting and the expressionist art design that von Sternberg created for the Russian palace.
The film stars Dietrich as Catherine, supported by Lodge, Sam Jaffe, Louise Dresser, and C. Aubrey Smith. Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva plays Catherine as a child.
Princess Sophia Frederica is the innocent daughter of a minor East Prussian prince and an ambitious mother. She is brought to Russia by Count Alexei at the behest of Empress Elizabeth to marry her simple-minded nephew Grand Duke Peter. The overbearing Elizabeth renames her Catherine and repeatedly demands that the new bride produce a male heir to the throne, which is impossible because Peter never comes near her after their wedding night. He spends all of his time with his mistress, his toy soldiers or his real soldiers. Alexei pursues Catherine relentlessly but without success. At dinner, he tries to pass a note to Catherine, begging for a few precious seconds with her, but Elizabeth intercepts it. She warns Catherine that Alexei is a womanizing heartbreaker.
That night, Elizabeth sends Catherine down a secret stairway to open the door for a lover, warning her to not let him see her. Catherine sees that the man is Alexei and, shaken and angry, hurls a miniature that he had given her out the window. She enters the garden to retrieve it and is stopped by a handsome lieutenant who is on guard duty for the first time. When Catherine tells him whom she is, he initially does not believe her and begins to flirt with her. She suddenly throws her arms around his neck, they kiss and she surrenders to him. Months later, all of Russia, with the exception of Peter, celebrates as Catherine gives birth to a son. Elizabeth promptly takes charge of the boy's care and sends the exhausted Catherine a magnificent necklace.
Elizabeth is in failing health. Peter plans to remove Catherine from court, perhaps by killing her. However, Catherine has become self-assured, sensual and cynical. She has devoted herself to learning how things work in Russia and is utterly unwilling to be preempted. The archimandrite is worried by the thought of Peter on the throne and offers Catherine his help, but she demurs, saying that she has "weapons that are far more powerful than any political machine" he can mobilize. Although the nation has been commanded to be in deep prayer for the dying Elizabeth Catherine is playing blind man's bluff with her ladies in waiting; she is lavishing kisses on the assembled soldiers when the bells toll for Elizabeth's passing. Peter taunts Elizabeth's corpse as she lies in state, saying that it is now his turn to rule.
An intertitle reads: "And while his Imperial Majesty Peter the III terrorized Russia, Catherine coolly added the army to her list of conquests." Catherine inspects the officers of Alexei's pet regiment, singling out Lieutenant Dmitri (the man from the garden) by borrowing one of Alexei's decorations to reward him for bravery. Orlov, Dmitri's captain, also attracts her attention. That evening, Catherine, who had refused to see Alexi privately since she admitted him to Elizabeth's quarters, finally permits him to visit her. When they are alone in her bedroom, she toys with him before sending him down the secret stairway to open the door for the man waiting there. He sees Captain Orlov and understands that his chance for a relationship with Catherine has passed.
At dinner, the archimandrite collects alms for the poor. Catherine strips her arm of bracelets, Orlov donates a handful of gems, Alexei gives a purse full of coins, the chancellor adds a single coin and Peter's mistress puts a scrap of food on the plate. Peter slaps the archimandrite's face and then proposes a toast to his mistress, but Catherine refuses to participate. Peter calls her a fool and she leaves with Orlov. Peter strips Orlov of his rank and dismisses him from military service to the throne. He then places Catherine under house arrest, obscuring it by issuing a public proclamation that she is dying.
In the middle of the night Orlov sneaks into Catherine's room and wakes her. In uniform, she flees the palace with her loyal troops. Alexei sees her depart and murmurs: "Exit Peter the Third, enter Catherine the Second." She rides through the night, gathering men to her cause. In the cathedral, the archimandrite blesses Catherine and she rings the bell that signals the start of the coup. Peter awakens and opens his door, finding Orlov standing guard. Orlov tells him "There is no emperor. There is only an empress." and kills him. Catherine and her troops ride up the stairs in the palace, thundering into the throne room as pealing bells are joined by the 1812 Overture. Her rule is secure.
Jaffe's role was his first in a feature film.
Director Josef von Sternberg described The Scarlet Empress as "a relentless excursion into style,"  and historical accuracy is sacrificed in the film for its style.  To show Russia as backward, anachronistic and in need of reform, the imperial court was set at the Kremlin in Moscow, rather than in Saint Petersburg, which was a more European city.  The royal palaces in the film are shown as made of wood and full of religious sculptures, but free-standing religious sculpture is not part of the Orthodox tradition. Pete Babusch from Switzerland created hundreds of gargoyle-like sculptures of male figures "crying, screaming, or in throes of misery" that "line the hallways, decorate the royal thrones, and even appear on serving dishes."  This resulted in "the most extreme of all of the cinematic representations of Russia."  In film critic Robin Wood's words:
A hyperrealist atmosphere of nightmare with its gargoyles, its grotesque figures twisted into agonized contortions, its enormous doors that require a half-dozen women to close or open, its dark spaces and ominous shadows created by the flickerings of innumerable candles, its skeleton presiding over the royal wedding banquet table. 
The Scarlet Empress was one of the later mainstream Hollywood films to be released before the Hays Code was strictly enforced. Near the beginning of the film, young Sophia's tutor reads to her about Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible and other ruthless czars, introducing an explicit montage of tortures and executions that includes several brief shots of women with exposed breasts.
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In 1998, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader included the film in his unranked list of the best American films not included on the AFI Top 100. 
Leonard Maltin gives the picture three out of four stars: "Von Sternberg tells the story ... in uniquely ornate fashion, with stunning lighting and camerawork and fiery Russian music. It's a visual orgy; dramatically uneven, but cinematically fascinating." 
In a 2001 review of the film for the Criterion Collection, film scholar Robin Wood placed it in the context of the collaboration between Sternberg and Dietrich:
The connecting theme of all the von Sternberg/Dietrich films might be expressed as a question: How does a woman, and at what cost, assert herself within an overwhelmingly male-dominated world? Each film offers a somewhat different answer (but none very encouraging), steadily evolving into the extreme pessimism and bitterness of The Scarlet Empress and achieving its apotheosis in their final collaboration The Devil Is a Woman. This resulted in the (today extraordinary) misreading of the films (starting from The Blue Angel) as "films about a woman who destroys men." Indeed, one might assert that it is only with the advent of radical feminism that the films (and especially the last two) have become intelligible. 
In 2006, The New York Times ' reviewer Dave Kehr described the film, with its "metaphysical treatment" of the subject, as clearly superior to the contemporaneous The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934), which was directed by Paul Czinner and produced by Alexander Korda. 
In 2008, The Guardian 's historical films reviewer Alex von Tunzelmann credits the film with "racy" entertainment value (grade: "B"), but she discredits its historical depth and accuracy (grade: "D−"), giving the film historical credence only for creating a "vaguely accurate impression" of Catherine's relationship with Peter, dismissing the rest as stemming from the director's fantasies and infatuations. 
Catherine II, most commonly known as Catherine the Great, was the reigning empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796. She came to power following the overthrow of her husband, Peter III. Under her long reign, inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment, Russia experienced a renaissance of culture and sciences, which led to the founding of many new cities, universities, and theatres; along with large-scale immigration from the rest of Europe, and the recognition of Russia as one of the great powers of Europe.
Elizabeth Petrovna, also known as Yelisaveta or Elizaveta, reigned as Empress of Russia from 1741 until her death in 1762. She remains one of the most popular Russian monarchs because of her decision not to execute a single person during her reign, her numerous construction projects, and her strong opposition to Prussian policies.
Peter III was Emperor of Russia from 5 January 1762 until 9 July of the same year, when he was overthrown by his wife, Catherine II. He was born in the German city of Kiel as Charles Peter Ulrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, but he was a grandson of Peter the Great and a great-grandson of Charles XI of Sweden.
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Paul I was Emperor of Russia from 1796 until his assassination. Officially, he was the only son of Peter III and Catherine the Great, although Catherine hinted that he was fathered by her lover Sergei Saltykov. Paul remained overshadowed by his mother for most of his life. He adopted the laws of succession to the Russian throne—rules that lasted until the end of the Romanov dynasty and of the Russian Empire. He also intervened in the French Revolutionary Wars and, toward the end of his reign, added Kartli and Kakheti in Eastern Georgia into the empire, which was confirmed by his son and successor Alexander I.
Anna Leopoldovna, born Elisabeth Katharina Christine von Mecklenburg-Schwerin and also known as Anna Carlovna, was regent of Russia for just over a year (1740–1741) during the minority of her infant son Emperor Ivan VI.
Josef von Sternberg was an Austrian-American filmmaker whose career successfully spanned the transition from the silent to the sound era, during which he worked with most of the major Hollywood studios. He is best known for his film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s, including the highly regarded Paramount/UFA production, The Blue Angel (1930).
Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov was a Russian soldier and statesman, who rose to prominence during the reign of Catherine the Great.
Count Alexei Grigorievich Razumovsky was a Ukrainian-born Russian Registered Cossack who rose to become the lover, and it was suggested he was the morganatic spouse of the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna of Russia. A member of the House of Razumovsky, he survived Elizabeth. The matter of any children they may have had together is unresolved.
Orlov is the name of a Russian noble family which produced several distinguished statesmen, scientists, diplomats, and soldiers. The family first gained distinction in the 18th century through the achievements of five Orlov brothers, of whom the second eldest was Catherine the Great's paramour, and two younger brothers were notable military commanders.
Princess Tarakanova was a pretender to the Russian throne. She styled herself, among other names, Knyazhna Yelizaveta Vladimirskaya, Fräulein Frank, and Madame Trémouille. Tarakanova is a later name, used only in entertainment, apparently on the basis of how she lived her last months and died. In her own time, she was not known by that name.
The Devil Is a Woman is a 1935 American romance film directed and photographed by Josef von Sternberg, adapted from the 1898 novel La Femme et le pantin by Pierre Louÿs. The film was based on a screenplay by John Dos Passos, and stars Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Atwill, Cesar Romero, Edward Everett Horton, and Alison Skipworth. The movie is the last of the six Sternberg-Dietrich collaborations for Paramount Pictures.
Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia was the eldest daughter of Emperor Peter I of Russia and his wife Empress Catherine I. Her younger sister, Empress Elizabeth, ruled between 1741 and 1762. While a potential heir in the reign of her nephew Peter II, she never acceded to the throne due to political reasons. However, her son Peter III became Emperor in 1762, succeeding Elizabeth. She was the Duchess Consort of Holstein-Gottorp by marriage. She was born in Moscow and died in Kiel in her youth, at the age of 20.
The Rise of Catherine the Great is a 1934 British historical film about the rise to power of Catherine the Great. It was directed by Paul Czinner, and stars Elisabeth Bergner as Catherine, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as Grand Duke Peter, Dorothy Hale as Countess Olga, and Flora Robson as Empress Elizabeth.
Young Catherine is a 1991 British TV miniseries based on the early life of Catherine II of Russia. Directed by Michael Anderson, it stars Julia Ormond as Catherine and Vanessa Redgrave as Empress Elizabeth.
Elizaveta Romanovna Vorontsova was a Russian noblewoman and lady-in-waiting. She was a mistress of Emperor Peter III of Russia. During their affair, rumors suggested that Peter had intentions of divorcing his wife Catherine in order to marry Vorontsova.
Prince Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov was a favourite of the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. He became a leader of the 1762 coup which overthrew Catherine's husband Peter III of Russia and installed Catherine as empress. For some years he was virtually co-ruler with her, but his repeated infidelities and the enmity of Catherine's other advisers led to his fall from power.
Marlene Dietrich was a German-American actress and singer.
Mary Hamilton, or Maria Danilovna Gamentova, was the lady-in-waiting of Empress Catherine I of Russia and a royal mistress of Tsar Peter the Great of Russia. She was executed for abortion, infanticide, theft and slander of Empress Catherine. She is pointed out as one of the possible inspirations for the song Mary Hamilton.
Ekaterina is a 2014 Russia-1 historical television series starring Marina Aleksandrova as the eventual Russian empress Catherine the Great. The first season tells the story of princess Sophie Friederike Auguste, and her rise to power to become Empress of Russia, following a coup d'état and the assassination of her husband, Peter III. The second season portrays the challenges she faces at home and abroad during the early years of her rule, as she tries to revitalise Russia to become one of the great powers of Europe, and becomes titled "the Great".