Rasputin and the Empress (1933)

127 or 133 mins | Drama | 24 March 1933

Cinematographer:

William Daniels

Editor:

Tom Held

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Alexander Toluboff

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The working title of the film was Rasputin . According to HR production charts and news items, when production began on 22 Jul 1932, Charles Brabin was the director. On 17 Aug, a HR news item noted that Richard Boleslavsky was "on the set directing" but that M-G-M denied Brabin was off the picture and claimed that the production had split into two units. After this time, however, Brabin did leave the picture and only Boleslavsky's name appears in the onscreen credits and in reviews. Shortly after Boleslavsky took over as director, screenwriter Charles MacArthur was asked to write additional dialogue, causing a postponement in filming for one or two days.
       Although Lenore Coffee, C. Gardner Sullivan, Mercedes de Acosta and John Meehan were mentioned in various pre-production articles as contributors to the treatment, continuity and dialogue, only MacArthur is credited onscreen and in reviews, and the contribution of the writers to the released film has not been determined. According to news items, Helen Freeman and Miriam Goldina were also in the cast, but their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. News items also note that at one time M-G-M wanted to borrow Boris Karloff from Universal for the role of "Rasputin," and that Mabel Marden was tested for the role of "Princess Maria." Ralph Morgan was borrowed from Fox for the film.
       A HR news item states that when Rasputin and the Empress was completed, it set a two-year record for length of the production. A NYT article on the film states that Dr. William Axt, M-G-M's music ... More Less

The working title of the film was Rasputin . According to HR production charts and news items, when production began on 22 Jul 1932, Charles Brabin was the director. On 17 Aug, a HR news item noted that Richard Boleslavsky was "on the set directing" but that M-G-M denied Brabin was off the picture and claimed that the production had split into two units. After this time, however, Brabin did leave the picture and only Boleslavsky's name appears in the onscreen credits and in reviews. Shortly after Boleslavsky took over as director, screenwriter Charles MacArthur was asked to write additional dialogue, causing a postponement in filming for one or two days.
       Although Lenore Coffee, C. Gardner Sullivan, Mercedes de Acosta and John Meehan were mentioned in various pre-production articles as contributors to the treatment, continuity and dialogue, only MacArthur is credited onscreen and in reviews, and the contribution of the writers to the released film has not been determined. According to news items, Helen Freeman and Miriam Goldina were also in the cast, but their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. News items also note that at one time M-G-M wanted to borrow Boris Karloff from Universal for the role of "Rasputin," and that Mabel Marden was tested for the role of "Princess Maria." Ralph Morgan was borrowed from Fox for the film.
       A HR news item states that when Rasputin and the Empress was completed, it set a two-year record for length of the production. A NYT article on the film states that Dr. William Axt, M-G-M's music director, had brought together all of the Greek and Russian church choirs in Los Angeles to sing during the celebration mass. Although only Herbert Stothart is credited with the score in the onscreen credits, the article states that Axt adapted and abridged "an authentic music score" especially for the picture. Another NYT article notes that John Barrymore received "between $100,000 and $125,000 per picture," Lionel Barrymore received "$4,000 per week," and Ethel Barrymore "was offered $100,000 for a single film [ Rasputin and the Empress ] and the offer was raised later." The article noted that "In ten weeks, which is estimated for the completion of the film, the Barrymores will have received $250,000 in salary." The film actually took about seventeen weeks to complete.
       Contemporary reviews and modern sources call this film the first in which the three Barrymores acted together; however, the Barrymores had previously acted together in National Red Cross Pageant , a 1917 allegorical film made to raise money for the Red Cross during World War I (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ; F1.3140). Modern books on the Barrymores have frequently included stories of squabbling among the siblings and clashes of egos, some of which were fuelled by publicity articles for the film. According to a NYT article in May 1932, when Ethel, who was making her talking picture debut, and her first film since The Divorcée in 1919, arrived at the Pasadena train station, she was greeted by her brother John and was asked by someone in the crowd if she was going to be nervous appearing with "two such accomplished 'scene stealers' as her brothers. John Barrymore interrupted the questioner and said, 'You need not worry about Mrs. Colt [Ethel's married name] getting nervous. She'll be standing right before the camera in front of us.'"
       According to various contemporary news items, Princess Irina Romanoff Youssoupoff, who was the model for Princess Natasha in the film, filed a damage suit against M-G-M in 1933. The princess won an award in an English court in Mar 1934 for $127,373, then in Aug 1934, according to a DV article, M-G-M made an out-of-court settlement with the princess in New York, reportedly for $250,000, which was said to be the largest award of its kind. It is unclear whether the New York settlement superceded the English award, or whether they were two separate cases. According to contemporary articles and modern sources, the suit was based on the princess' contention that M-G-M had invaded her privacy and libelously portrayed her as the mistress of Rasputin. In 1963, the princess and her husband, Prince Felix Youssoupoff [the model for Prince Paul in the M-G-M film] filed suit against CBS for $1,500,000 following their broadcast of the British-made film Rasputin--the Mad Monk (directed by Don Sharp and starring Christopher Lee, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ; F6.4023) claiming that the CBS film invaded their privacy, was partially inaccurate, and was libelous. A 1965 LAT article on the CBS suit noted that the princess contended she had never met Rasputin. The article continued, that Prince Youssoupoff and two other men had acknowledged for almost fifty years that they had indeed killed the monk [in a manner similar to that portrayed in the M-G-M film] and the story was therefore in the public domain. The disposition of the CBS suit has not been determined.
       For his work on the film, Charles MacArthur received an Academy Award nomination in the Writing (Original Story) category. In addition to the M-G-M and CBS films, events surrounding the rise and fall of Rasputin and the start of the Russian Revolution of 1917 have been recounted in many films, most prominently in the 1971 production Nicholas and Alexandra , directed by Franklin Schaffner and starring Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman (see above)and the 1984 Russian film, Rasputin , directed by Elem Klimoy and starring Alexei Petrenko. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
10 Mar 34
p. 3.
Daily Variety
11 Aug 34
p. 3.
Daily Variety
17 Aug 34
p. 2.
Film Daily
23 Jul 32
p. 2.
Film Daily
13 Sep 32
p. 10.
Film Daily
7 Dec 32
p. 6.
Film Daily
28 Dec 32
p. 10.
HF
23 Jul 32
p. 8.
HF
30 Jul 32
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 32
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jul 32
pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Aug 32
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Aug 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 32
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 32
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Aug 32
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 32
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 32
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Nov 32
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 32
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 32
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 37
p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald
31 Dec 32
p. 36.
New York Times
24 Dec 32
p. 11.
Variety
27 Dec 32
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
Mus score
Celebration mus abridged and adpt by
SOUND
Rec dir
PRODUCTION MISC
Cavalry trainer
Cavalry trainer
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Rasputin
Release Date:
24 March 1933
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 23 December 1932
Production Date:
22 July--19 November 1932
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Copyright Date:
6 February 1933
Copyright Number:
LP3633
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
127 or 133
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In Russia, in 1913, Czar Nicholai Alexander and Czarina Alexandra opulently celebrate three hundred years of the Romanoff dynasty, unaware that their empire is crumbling. A short time later, Prince Paul Chegodieff reports to the Grand Duke Igor that his brother Sergei has been assassinated. Though he is engaged to Sergei's daughter, Princess Natasha, Paul is against Igor's plans for mass executions of all suspects. When thousands gather in protest at the palace, the frightened Czar and Czarina send their only son, the Czarevitch Alexis Nikolaiovitch "Aloysha," to the people, and the appearance of the brave boy appeases the crowd. Three months later, the czar decides to create a "Duma" for the people, patterned after the British parliament. Meanwhile, Natasha has come under the influence of a charismatic monk named Rasputin, much to Paul's displeasure. When Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, falls and cannot stop bleeding, Natasha urges the czarina to let Rasputin cure the child. Spellbound by Rasputin and heartbroken by her child's screams of pain, Alexandra sends the child's physicians away and allows the monk to see him alone. Rasputin mesmerizes Aloysha, and he is miraculously cured. Soon Rasputin becomes an honored member of the royal household and exhibits considerable power over the family. The head of the secret police visits Rasputin and offers to give him personal files on wealthy members of society in exchange for political favors. Rasputin uses the files to blackmail the wealthy for money, power and sexual favors. By 1914, as Rasputin's power expands, Paul becomes increasingly concerned. Paul and Natasha are now married, but Natasha's slavish devotion to Rasputin continues. Some ... +


In Russia, in 1913, Czar Nicholai Alexander and Czarina Alexandra opulently celebrate three hundred years of the Romanoff dynasty, unaware that their empire is crumbling. A short time later, Prince Paul Chegodieff reports to the Grand Duke Igor that his brother Sergei has been assassinated. Though he is engaged to Sergei's daughter, Princess Natasha, Paul is against Igor's plans for mass executions of all suspects. When thousands gather in protest at the palace, the frightened Czar and Czarina send their only son, the Czarevitch Alexis Nikolaiovitch "Aloysha," to the people, and the appearance of the brave boy appeases the crowd. Three months later, the czar decides to create a "Duma" for the people, patterned after the British parliament. Meanwhile, Natasha has come under the influence of a charismatic monk named Rasputin, much to Paul's displeasure. When Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, falls and cannot stop bleeding, Natasha urges the czarina to let Rasputin cure the child. Spellbound by Rasputin and heartbroken by her child's screams of pain, Alexandra sends the child's physicians away and allows the monk to see him alone. Rasputin mesmerizes Aloysha, and he is miraculously cured. Soon Rasputin becomes an honored member of the royal household and exhibits considerable power over the family. The head of the secret police visits Rasputin and offers to give him personal files on wealthy members of society in exchange for political favors. Rasputin uses the files to blackmail the wealthy for money, power and sexual favors. By 1914, as Rasputin's power expands, Paul becomes increasingly concerned. Paul and Natasha are now married, but Natasha's slavish devotion to Rasputin continues. Some time later, Paul goes to visit the czarevitch and sees that Rasputin is controlling the child's mind. When the boy savagely bites Paul, Paul and Rasputin argue. When the czarina arrives, she takes Rasputin's side and orders Paul away. Soon Natasha goes to Rasputin to warn him that Paul has plans to kill him. Later, when Paul arrives, he shoots the monk several times, but nothing happens, because Rasputin is wearing a metal breastplate for protection. In Aug 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany orders Russia to demobilize or go to war. Though the czar does not want to fight the kaiser, who is his cousin, Rasputin advises him to keep his troops, over the protests of Paul. When the war begins, Paul and the czar go to the front. One night, Rasputin tries to force himself on Princess Maria, the czar's daughter. When the frightened Maria tells Natasha, her devotion to Rasputin turns to hate. He tries to hypnotize her back into submission, but is interrupted by the czarina, who finally sees his evil. She tells him that his influence is over, but he merely laughs. Natasha then sends for Paul and they decide that Rasputin must be killed, no matter what effect his death might have on Aloysha. During a wild party to which Rasputin has been invited, he is fed enough poisoned cakes to kill several men, but the poison proves ineffectual. When Paul arrives, he asks Rasputin to accompany him to the cellar. As Rasputin starts to weaken, Paul tells him about the poison, and Rasputin says, "If I die, Russia dies." The two men then fight and end up out in the snow. Paul strangles the monk, then throws him into the river, where he finally drowns. Upon Rasputin's death, the czarevitch awakens from his hypnotic trance and embraces his mother. The Czar then "officially" exiles Paul and Natasha to England, even though he is personally grateful. Some months later, after the Russian Revolution begins, the royal family are imprisoned, then killed before a firing squad. +

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

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