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The Scarlet Empress [DVD]


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Product details

  • Actors: Marlene Dietrich, John Lodge, Sam Jaffe, Louise Dresser, C. Aubrey Smith
  • Directors: Josef von Sternberg
  • Producers: Josef von Sternberg
  • Format: PAL
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish
  • Dubbed: None
  • Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
  • Audio Description: None
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: Universal Pictures UK
  • DVD Release Date: 13 Oct 2008
  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001D1F8NY
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,836 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Reviews

The story of Catherine the Great, lavishly portrayed by director Josef von Sternberg, with Marlene Dietrich (who else?) in the title role. German-born Princess Sophia (Dietrich) is married off to Russia's half-mad Grand Duke Peter (Sam Jaffe), in the hope of improving the royal blood line. Forced to continue in a loveless marriage, and put up with the eccentricities of her mother-in-law, Empress Elizabeth (Louise Dresser), Catherine finds comfort in the arms of a succession of soldiers and the opportunistic Count Alexei (John Lodge). Forever anxious to strengthen her power base, Catherine's chance finally arrives with the death of the aged Elizabeth, allowing her to assume the title of Empress. With one last hurdle to overcome, that of her treacherous husband, Catherine achieves her future legacy by staging a coup d'etat with the aid of the military.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 16 Nov 2008
Format: DVD
Contrary to what the cover may suggest, this is a black and white film of the kind that demonstrates how well the medium could be used by a master of the craft. Based on the early life of Empress Catherine the Great it begins with her arrival at court as a young naive bride for the insane Emperor and ends with her triumphant accession as sole Empress of all the Russias. The viewer is drawn into a deadly game of plot and counter plot where the whim of an insane Emperor is the only law and death the penalty for failing to outwit him. The Court is a labyrinth of shadowy corridors, half seen tormented and grotesque religious carvings and servile courtiers whose elegance masks ambition and ruthlesness. Beautifully shot and superbly acted I guarantee that this is one film you wll not forget.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By B. G. Carroll on 30 April 2009
Format: DVD
After the disappointing CRITERION DVD (issued 2001) of this classic pre-code movie from early 1934, I was hesitant to buy it again, but this amazingly cheap DVD was a revelation. At last, a really pristine source was found (I believe from the BFI in London) that has finally ensured von Sternberg's masterpiece can be seen again in all its glory.

The sensational photography is what makes SCARLET EMPRESS one of the richest visual treats of the 1930s. No extras on the disc....but at this price, who cares? It's the film that matters, and here you can see it in such lustrous detail, almost as good as seeing a nitrate print in 1934! BUY IT without any hesitation before it gets deleted.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Jan 2009
Format: DVD
Scarlet Empress [1934]

Joseph von Sternberg directs a spectacular movie of the early life of Catherine the Great of Russia, stated to have a cast of a 1000, and wonderful interior sets with grotesque statues, with corridors wide enough for the regiment of mounted Cossacks to ride around.

Empress Elizabeth Petrovna is played as a kind of dominant peasant mum, I hope the Empress was like this in real life. Sam Jaffe looks suitably mad as Catherine's new husband the Grand Duke Peter probably was, and John Lodge is impressive as Count Alexei the man she really loves. Also one of my favourites C. Aubrey Smith plays Catherine's father the Prince August.

The characterisation is hampered b y the 100 minute running time, nevertheless this is a superb example of a major historical production from the mid 1930's presented in a fine transfer doing full justice to the masterly black and white filming, with a soundtrack from the 1812 overture.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By C. O. DeRiemer HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 July 2007
Format: DVD
The Scarlet Empress is one of the most bizarre, opulent and sexually suggestive major movies around. It somehow managed to squeak through just as Hollywood's morality code slammed shut the door on fairly explicit sexual situations. It features the stunning beauty of Marlene Dietrich, moving effortlessly from innocent but hopeful sexuality to the cool and manipulative sexuality that can seduce an army and win an empire. There's enough fetishistic leering to fill a textbook. "Why did you do that?" the young German Princess Sophia Frederica (Dietrich) asks her handsome escort, Count Alexei (John Lodge) after he kisses her while on their way to St. Petersburg to meet her royal fiancee. "Because I have fallen in love with you," he says, handing her a whip, "and now you must punish me for my effrontery." Or the scene where Sophia is examined for suitability by a doctor with his hand under her skirts while she is engaged in conversation with the Empress in front of the court. Or a scene at the wedding banquet where a drunken guest uses his teeth to rip a bite from the snout of a roast pig head.

Alexei delivers Sophia intact to the Empress Elizabeth (Louise Dresser) and her half-wit son, Grand Duke Peter (Sam Jaffe), a grinning, cowardly, sadistic imbecile. It is Elizabeth's wish that Sophia, whom Elizabeth immediately renames Catherine, bear Mother Russia a son and heir precisely nine months after the wedding. Catherine is appalled but will do her duty if she must. Peter is petulant, much preferring his toy soldiers and his equally petulant mistress. Eventually a son and heir is born, sometime after Catherine, who is quickly learning the ways of the Russian court, encounters a handsome guard one night on the grounds of the palace.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Dolphin on 17 Mar 2010
Format: DVD
All the blue blood of the courts of Europe must have curdled into a brain-stunting stew long before 1760, so it's fitting that Von Sternberg's vision of the Russian dynasty is so damaged and deranged, importing fresh Prussian genes (Dietrich as Catherine) to arrest the degenerative slide. Sam Jaffe's Grand Duke Peter (later the Emperor Peter III) is Harpo Marx cross bred with Tiny Tim on the Island of Dr Moreau. Marlene Dietrich's Catherine, after an initial doe-eyed turn as an innocent, is an automaton of desire, arousing with one hand, castrating with the other, at once a vixen and a shrew shot through gauze and candles by a permanently stimulated lens. At its (wordless) best, a feast of ragingly intemperate psycho-sexual and psycho-historical motifs in a wobbly frame.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bill on 30 Mar 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinary film, in which the Russian court is reimagined as a grotesque, surreal fantasy world, peopled by buffoons and conspirators. The sets are the stuff of nightmares... it's as if Alien's designer H R Giger was let loose on Gormenghast castle.

The mood lurches from farce to pageant, from horror to comedy, and the performances are wildly over-the-top; in one memorable instance Dietrich is transformed from guileless princess to plotting vamp within minutes, jettisoning her little-girl-lost voice and adopting her trademark smoky, seductive accent.

The film displays not a shred of historical accuracy; this is a fairy-tale, and one that's genuinely unforgettable. The drill-bit emerging from an icon's eyeball, the skeleton at the feast, the emperor's pop-eyed manic leer, and Catherine's rictus grin as she caresses her steed - these and other scenes linger long after the closing credits.
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