Rasputin and the Empress Reviews
Hypocritically, the society that tried to discredit Rasputin with rumors of women and drink, was filled with promiscuous aristocrats, many of whom suffered from venereal disease (the newspapers of the time were filled with ads for cures for VD)and most of whom consumed vodka and French champagne by the case. So, if Rasputin had been an aristocrat and exhibited the rumored behavior he was maligned for, no one would have thought anything of it.
It's interesting that the above disclaimer is seen during the credits of virtually every film made due to the lawsuit filed against MGM after the initial release of RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS. A little over 15 years had passed since the events depicted in the film actually happened. Some of the principals involved were still alive and well? and none too happy with MGM's version of the story. During the resultant libel suit - the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who were able to secure (at the time) a very hefty settlement from MGM.
Sure, Hollywood took some artistic liberties in depicting the drama which occurred during the final years of the Romanov dynasty (just prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution). The opening credits really do not dispute that - and reads just so:
The Czarina???????????.?..Ethel Barrymore
The Czar??????????????..Ralph Morgan
The Czarevitch???????????...Tad Alexander
Prince Chegodieff (fictional character)?..John Barrymore
Natasha (fictional character)?????...Diana Wynard
Grand Duke Igor (fictional character)??.C. Henry Gordon
Doctor Remezov (fictional character)??.Edward Arnold
In reality, the story of Grigory Rasputin is so bizarre that the film really pales in comparison. This really is an example of the truth being stranger than fiction.
I suppose it's really not too hard to imagine how a charismatic figure like Rasputin could gain the confidence of an Empress. Not when it comes to saving the life of her young son, Alexei - The Czarevitch, heir to the Russian throne - who becomes gravely ill due to complications relating to hemophilia.
The Czarina Alexandra, a devout Orthodox - turns to the holy man Rasputin for help when treatment by Russian doctors fail. "I'm a simple man who believes God answers prayer", Rasputin tells Alexandra. "You trust doctors?don't you believe God can do more than they can?"
Miraculously, Rasputin is able to "cure" young Alexei?and so begins Rasputin rise as a figure in Russian History. He uses the influence gained by being associated with the Romanovs to achieve social and political power.
Despite the title - the drama seems to center not on the relationship between Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra, but rather more towards the dynamics between Rasputin and the Prince Chegodieff, who does not trust Rasputin at all. "There is something clammy about him", Chegodieff admits to his fiance, Natasha. "I can't explain it. I have the same feeling brushing against something on a dark night."
This is the only film in which all three Barrymore siblings appear in the same film?but RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS really belongs to Lionel, who has the best lines. "In less than a year?I WILL BE RUSSIA."
The film itself is beautiful to look at due to the lavish sets and costumes. Director Richard Boleslawski achieved a more realistic atmosphere here rather than the lyrical quality imparted by director Josef Von Sternberg for his SCARLET EMPRESS (which looked at the reign of Catherine the Great). Boleslawski inserts stock footage during various scenes.
The film seems rather long for a 121 minute film. The First World War is just touched upon. So too the Russian Revolution and the dramatic end of the reign of The Romanovs. As historical drama, RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS may leave you wanting for more. Details, that is.