Wednesday, 26 November 2008


How could you describe the work of Josef Von Sternberg to somebody who has not seen one of his films ? Baroque springs to mind, Over the top goes part of the way, but the truth is you just have to experience them. THE SCARLET EMPRESS is Von Sternberg at full throttle. Within a few minutes of the film beginning kindly old Edward Van Sloan announces to the baby princess that he is going to read the history of Russia to her and we are treated to a wonderful montage of murder, beheadings, naked women writhing as they burn at the stake, iron maidens, torture chambers, bodies used as clangers inside giant bells! The princess grows up to be Marlene Dietrich and is whisked off to Russia to marry the drooling moron who is heir to the throne. After the death of his mother the prince turns on his own people and tries to replace his wife. Eventually the worm turns and Dietrich initiates a night of the long knives and takes over - an act which involves Dietrich dressing up in a white leathe cossack suit, mounting her chargers and riding up the main staircase of the imperial palace whith a troop of cossacks while Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries blasts out on the soundtrack. The film has amazing sets, superb photography, a great cast, terrific score and stunning costumes. Hollywood in the 1930's just didn't get much better than this - or more excessive. Dietrich is simply magnificent. Rating *****


Cerpts said...

THE SCARLET EMPRESS is truly a momentous and indescribable experience when watching it for the first time . . . or the 101st. I think you captured it extremely well. It is truly a delirious motion picture that surely is the pinnacle of the von Sternberg/Dietrich partnership. And Marlene herself if remarkable as she transforms herself from the naive, malleable and lovable young girl who is pushed and pulled around by her elders to the supremely confident, cool, remote, and powerful demigoddess who wrests control of Holy Russia into the palm of her hand.

Weaverman said...

There are so many great moments in the Sternberg/Dietrich canon, like Marlene in a gorilla suit in MOROCCO, or my favourite moment in DISHONOURED where Dietrich, facing a firing squad, is asked if she has one last request and what does she do ? She hitches up her skirt and adjusts her stockings! What a gal!