14 thoughts on “TBT: The Scarlet Empress (1934)

  1. Yes and it’s fun to watch if you suspend all knowledge of Catherine the Great and go with the flow. Likewise with the costumes. Some are totally off the period, others not as much when the try showing 18th Century styles. Marlene is a joy to watch. And I wonder since she probably knew more about the period, bc of her education that she plays it tongue in cheek. Costume grade: C-C+.

  2. Yes, I have seen it. I care deeply about real history and accurate production values — including costumes.

    But this blast of decadent artiness blows several mediocre somewhat accurate miniseries into atoms. It is a fever dream of eroticism and twisted religion, all in splendid black and white.

    Now, to find a DVD or subscribe to yet another streaming service….

  3. A different age portraying a different age. Would it be worth it, I wonder, to see it colorized? Probably not.

  4. I’ve never actually managed to see it, alas. Vintage films are harder and harder to see these days, and this never made it to the revival house I was blessed with back in the ’70s.

    But I’ve got to ask– would a star costume by Travis Banton for Paramount somehow make it over to MGM for Adrian’s MARIE ANTOINETTE?

    I know studios reused costumes on their own productions, but would something that deluxe have been discarded and gone into a stock costume service within five years?

    There is a very similar gown worn by Gladys George in the later film, with a lot more embellishment, but I think it’s a new design, not the Banton dress with alterations.

    1. A leading character’s costume becomes a background figure’s costume all the time. In Hollywood, Western Costume has been around since the ’20s as the big rental house, & they work with every studio (in the UK, it’s Angels & CosProp). The designers didn’t have much say over what happened to their costumes, & really, nobody cared about movie costumes after they were filmed for decades! Use it as many times as possible, remake it over, then trash it (that’s why the Debbie Reynolds collection was so special).

      Now, I haven’t rewatched the ’30s MA recently so I’m not saying any gown from this flick was definitely reused in it, but with those big ballroom scenes in MA, I wouldn’t be surprised if some were.

  5. I would so love to see these sets and costumes on a big screen; I never really appreciated its overblown weirdness on television years ago. If one keeps remembering that the many OTT elements are just imperial Russia filtered through the experience and eyes of a down-to-earth foreign princess, it sort of works as history (emphasis on “sort of”).

  6. One of my favourite movies of all time! And also, one of the only times I like this kind of weird, ahistorical costuming, because the whole movie is pure expressionism and that aesthetic is in every detail of it, even some of the acting.

    I went to a great academic talk once about the way the style symbolises the oppression of the Russian people by the old regime.

  7. I enjoyed it mostly. I do remember the hodgepodge of accents being distracting. The models they used for cities were also way too small and shot at a betraying angle. I did appreciate the interior set design and most of the costumes in any event.

  8. OK, next time this comes up on TCM, I’ll stick it out. I just need to adjust how I’m watching it.

  9. The photo of the wedding ensemble is not from that movie. It is from the “Knight Without armour” which is set (in Russia) in 1917.

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