The Scarlet Empress (1934)

The Scarlet Empress



Critic Consensus: Complex, visually stunning, and breathtakingly intense, The Scarlet Empress overpowers its flaws with a confident vigor befitting its legendary subject.

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Movie Info

In this film, Marlene Dietrich plays the German-born Catherine the Great, who is required to marry Russia's mad Grand Duke Peter. As if her marriage isn't torment enough, Catherine must endure the excesses of her new mother-in-law, Empress Elizabeth. Eventually, Catherine finds solace in the form of Count Alexei.

Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Catherine II, Manuel Komroff, Catherine Gray (II)
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 8, 2001
Paramount Pictures

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as Princess Sophia Fred...

as Count Alexei

as Grand Duke Peter

as Empress Elizabeth Pe...

as Prince August

as Sophia (as a child)

as Countess Elizabeth

as Princess Johanna

as Gregory Orloff

as Lt. Ostvyn

as Archimandrite Simeon...

as Chancellor Alexei Be...

as Mlle. Cardell

as Herr Wagner

as Marquis De La Chetar...

as Guard

as Count Lestocq

as Innkeeper

as Narcissuse

as Count Von Breummer

as Ivan Shuvalov

as Lackey

as Lackey

as Jester
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The Scarlet Empress

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (6)

Josef von Sternberg's 1934 film turns the legend of Catherine the Great into a study of sexuality sadistically repressed and reborn as politics, thus anticipating Bertolucci by three decades.

Full Review… | August 20, 2014
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A tedious hyperbole in which Director Josef von Sternberg achieved the improbable feat of burying Marlene Dietrich in a welter of plaster-of-paris gargoyles and galloping cossacks.

Full Review… | August 20, 2014
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Josef von Sternberg becomes so enamoured of the pomp and flash values that he subjugates everything else to them. That he succeeds as well as he does is a tribute to his artistic genius and his amazingly vital sense of photogenic values.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Running a solid hundred minutes, the film first shocks and stimulates the imagination, and then, lacking the dramatic skill to refresh its audiences, becomes steadily duller.

Full Review… | August 8, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

The decor and costumes, and the mise-en-scÚne that deploys them, have never been equaled for expressionist intensity.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The film tells the story of Catherine the Great as a bizarre visual extravaganza, combining twisted sexuality and bold bawdy humor as if Mel Brooks had collaborated with the Marquis de Sade.

Full Review… | January 20, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Scarlet Empress

As opulent and decadent as can be imagined, Von Sternberg's vision of early court life is suffused in shadows and grotesqueries unlike most films of this sort, bringing to mind the axiom of absolute power corrupting absolutely. The story's not so good, but the imagery will stay with you.

Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer


what a spectacle this is. the sets are just outrageous. could've used a better script perhaps but definitely worth watching for the fantastic art direction alone. and then there's dietrich...

Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

This was a good historical drama, I didn't know much about Catherine before, but this movie didn't tell me everything I wanted to know. It only covers her youth and the time she marries into the Russian royalty, but we don't get to see how she handles the country as the new empress. It was slightly better than I expected, but it let me down in the end.

Aj V

Super Reviewer

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