The Scarlet Empress is a 1934 historical drama film made by Paramount Pictures about the life of Catherine the Great. It was directed and produced by Josef von Sternberg, with Emanuel Cohen as executive producer, from a screenplay by Eleanor McGeary, based on the diary of Catherine arranged by Manuel Komroff.
Marlene Dietrich as Catherine, with John Davis Lodge, Sam Jaffe (in his film debut), Louise Dresser, and C. Aubrey Smith. Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva plays Catherine as a child. This is the very last mainstream motion picture to be released before the Hays Code was strictly enforced. ( Hence the sexual overtones in the symbols)
The film is notable for its expressionist art design von Sternberg creates for the Russian palace. In film critic Robin Wood's words:
Rooted in both Expressionism and Surrealism, The Scarlet Empress is essentially “modernist,” far removed from even Hollywood’s notions of realism. Though von Sternberg insisted that the Imperial Palace set was historically authentic, he used it to create and sustain a hyperrealist atmosphere of nightmare with its gargoyles, its grotesque figures twisted into agonized contortions, its enormous doors that require a half-dozen women to close or open, its dark spaces and ominous shadows created by the flickerings of innumerable candles, its skeleton presiding over the royal wedding banquet table. And here, the sense of entrapment that connects most of the director’s personal work reaches its extreme of oppressiveness.
Josef von Sternberg was an Austrian-American film director. He is particularly noted for his distinctive mise en scène, use of lighting and soft lens, and seven-film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich.
|Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva plays Catherine as a child.|
You can see the director's sense of art expressed by the Von Sternberg House which he had designed by the architect Richard Neutra a philosopher of Modernism in architecture. It was a single bedroom (servant bedrooms excluded) mini-mansion built in 1935 in Northridge, California, in the then-rural San Fernando Valley. It was demolished in 1972 to make way for a housing development.