The Scarlet Empress


Period and swashbuckler films

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Time Out says

Sternberg's penultimate film with Dietrich was the visual apotheosis of their work together: a chronicle of the rise of Catherine of Russia, with elements of burlesque and pastiche, conceived principally as a delirious, extravagant spectacle. (It could almost be read as Sternberg's homage to silent cinema, with its strong alliance of music and visuals, and its narrative relegated to intertitles; but it's also a prefiguration of Ivan the Terrible) Catherine begins as an ostensibly naive innocent, tucked up in bed to tales of the Tsars' atrocities, and winds up in male military drag, killing her halfwit husband, leading her cavalry into the palace, herself merging with icons of Christ. In other words, beneath the surface frivolities, it's tough stuff. The decor and costumes, and the mise-en-scéne that deploys them, have never been equalled for expressionist intensity.


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Release details

UK release:



109 mins

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