The Scarlet Empress (1934)

100 or 103-104 mins | Drama | 15 September 1934

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HISTORY

According to scripts in the Paramount Script Collection at the AMPAS Library, the working titles for this film were Her Regiment of Lovers , Catherine II and Catherine the Great . The film credits "a supporting cast of 1000 players." Narrative titles are used throughout the film to advance the plot. The film was not released until almost four months after the production was completed. According to modern sources, the reason why Paramount held up its release was that the studio wanted to avoid box office competition from the Alexander Korda production Catherine the Great , starring Elisabeth Bergner, which was released in the United State on 16 Mar 1934. The Scarlet Empress reportedly cost $900,000 to produce. In his autobiography, director Josef von Sternberg states that "about ten feet" of the film, which showed "an enormous number of Russians swarming through the streets," was borrowed from Ernst Lubitsch's 1928 film The Patriot , and Lubitsch, not recognizing his own scene, chastised Sternberg for "willful waste and disregard of costs," believing he had shot the elaborate scene himself. Sternberg states that he wrote a violin composition for one of the scenes and conducted the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra in playing the film's score. Modern sources credit Travis Banton with costumes; Gordon Jennings with titles and effects; Milan Roder as an additional music arranger; Hans Dreier, Peter Ballbusch and Richard Kollorsz as set designers; and attribute the gargoyles and other figures that were displayed throughout the Muscovian court to Ballbusch, a Swiss sculptor. Maria Sieber, who as an adult acted under the name Maria Riva, was Marlene Dietrich's daughter. ... More Less

According to scripts in the Paramount Script Collection at the AMPAS Library, the working titles for this film were Her Regiment of Lovers , Catherine II and Catherine the Great . The film credits "a supporting cast of 1000 players." Narrative titles are used throughout the film to advance the plot. The film was not released until almost four months after the production was completed. According to modern sources, the reason why Paramount held up its release was that the studio wanted to avoid box office competition from the Alexander Korda production Catherine the Great , starring Elisabeth Bergner, which was released in the United State on 16 Mar 1934. The Scarlet Empress reportedly cost $900,000 to produce. In his autobiography, director Josef von Sternberg states that "about ten feet" of the film, which showed "an enormous number of Russians swarming through the streets," was borrowed from Ernst Lubitsch's 1928 film The Patriot , and Lubitsch, not recognizing his own scene, chastised Sternberg for "willful waste and disregard of costs," believing he had shot the elaborate scene himself. Sternberg states that he wrote a violin composition for one of the scenes and conducted the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra in playing the film's score. Modern sources credit Travis Banton with costumes; Gordon Jennings with titles and effects; Milan Roder as an additional music arranger; Hans Dreier, Peter Ballbusch and Richard Kollorsz as set designers; and attribute the gargoyles and other figures that were displayed throughout the Muscovian court to Ballbusch, a Swiss sculptor. Maria Sieber, who as an adult acted under the name Maria Riva, was Marlene Dietrich's daughter. Actor John Lodge, grandson of Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, later became governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain. In addition to the 1934 Korda-United Artists film mentioned above, Catherine the Great was the subject of a 1968 British film, Great Catherine , directed by Gordon Flemyng and starring Peter O'Toole, Zero Mostel and Jeanne Moreau. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
26 Jan 34
p. 4.
Daily Variety
17 Apr 34
p. 3.
Film Daily
15 Sep 34
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 34
p. 3.
Life
Nov 34
pp. 42-43.
Motion Picture Daily
Apr 34
p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald
Feb 34
p. 39.
Motion Picture Herald
Apr 34
p. 31, 34
New York Times
15 Sep 34
p. 20.
Variety
18 Sep 34
p. 11.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITERS
[Scr] arr by
Contr to scr const
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SOUND
Rec eng
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on a diary of Catherine II.
AUTHOR
MUSIC
by John M. Leipold and W. Frank Harling from themes from The Fourth Symphony, Marche Slave and 1812 Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Rondo Capriccioso and Midsummer Night's Dream by Felix Mendelssohn and Die Walküre by Richard Wagner.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Catherine II
Catherine the Great
Her Regiment of Lovers
Release Date:
15 September 1934
Production Date:
ended 26 January 1934
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
5 September 1934
Copyright Number:
LP4932
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
100 or 103-104
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
PCA No:
16
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

The young German princess Sophia Frederica is chosen by Queen Elizabeth of Russia to marry her nephew, the "royal halfwit" Peter, in order to provide a sane male heir to the throne. Elizabeth changes Sophia's name to Catherine and, following the wedding, Peter tells the queen he hates his wife. When the marriage remains unconsummated, Catherine is blamed. Meanwhile, the debonair Count Alexei pursues Catherine and gives her a locket that contains his picture. The queen discovers their rendezvous, however, and demands that Catherine not leave her sight. That night, Catherine discovers Alexei is the queen's lover and throws his locket out her window, but in remorse goes out into the snowy night to find it. There she meets Lieutenant Dmitri, a guard, who does not recognize her. In an act of vengeance, Catherine makes love with him and becomes pregnant. When she gives birth to a boy, Catherine satisfies the queen, but Peter knows the child is not his and his hatred for Catherine grows. When the queen dies, Peter becomes czar and begins a reign of terror, torturing and murdering thousands of Russians. By befriending much of the royal army through her feminine wiles, Catherine builds her defense against the increasingly insane Peter. When Peter has Catherine arrested in order to bring his mistress to the throne, Catherine escapes and, with the help of General Orloff, storms the palace, after which Orloff murders ... +


The young German princess Sophia Frederica is chosen by Queen Elizabeth of Russia to marry her nephew, the "royal halfwit" Peter, in order to provide a sane male heir to the throne. Elizabeth changes Sophia's name to Catherine and, following the wedding, Peter tells the queen he hates his wife. When the marriage remains unconsummated, Catherine is blamed. Meanwhile, the debonair Count Alexei pursues Catherine and gives her a locket that contains his picture. The queen discovers their rendezvous, however, and demands that Catherine not leave her sight. That night, Catherine discovers Alexei is the queen's lover and throws his locket out her window, but in remorse goes out into the snowy night to find it. There she meets Lieutenant Dmitri, a guard, who does not recognize her. In an act of vengeance, Catherine makes love with him and becomes pregnant. When she gives birth to a boy, Catherine satisfies the queen, but Peter knows the child is not his and his hatred for Catherine grows. When the queen dies, Peter becomes czar and begins a reign of terror, torturing and murdering thousands of Russians. By befriending much of the royal army through her feminine wiles, Catherine builds her defense against the increasingly insane Peter. When Peter has Catherine arrested in order to bring his mistress to the throne, Catherine escapes and, with the help of General Orloff, storms the palace, after which Orloff murders Peter. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.