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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rise Of Catherine The Great (1934)

A German princess (Elisabeth Bergner) arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the heir to the throne, the narcissistic, unstable Grand Duke Peter (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Although she loves him, after their marriage it becomes clear that he is unfit to rule Russia and she must take her (and Russia's) fate into her own hands. Produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Paul Czinner (also Bergner's husband), this lavish historical drama stays close to the historical "facts", such as they are, but puts forth an elaborate scenario that favors Catherine in a way that may not correspond with the real Catherine. But as a movie, it's quite entertaining and the wide eyed Bergner gives a strong performance as the shy young German princess who has the mantle of greatness thrust upon her. The best performance comes from Flora Robson as the raunchy Empress Elisabeth, who realizes her son would be a disaster for Russia but sees the bud of greatness that would bloom in the young Catherine. The admirable art direction is courtesy of Vincent Korda and A. Hallam.

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