Review: ‘The Rise of Catherine the Great’

A nice rather than a good-looking girl, with beautiful eyes, Elisabeth Bergner charms as she progresses and is altogether believable as the minor German princess of moderate circumstances summoned to Russia by the Empress Elizabeth to wed her erratic nephew, the Grand Duke Peter, sometimes called Peter the Impossible. The throne needs an heir.

A nice rather than a good-looking girl, with beautiful eyes, Elisabeth Bergner charms as she progresses and is altogether believable as the minor German princess of moderate circumstances summoned to Russia by the Empress Elizabeth to wed her erratic nephew, the Grand Duke Peter, sometimes called Peter the Impossible. The throne needs an heir.

Theatrical license has been liberally taken. This story makes the marriage the culmination of the blue-blooded Cinderella’s childhood dream and almost places her upon the throne despite herself, except that she rises to meet the obligation upon realizing how unequipped her dissolute husband is to meet the responsibility.

Bergner’s scene with the dying empress (Flora Robson) is a gem of expert playing by both women and there are other highlight sequences, particularly a banquet, which stand out for direction, portrayal and dialog. The story is principally in the hands of Bergner, Robson and Douglas Fairbanks. Robson gives a fine performance, while Fairbanks’ definition of the fuming Peter is one of the best he has ever done.

Catherine is reported to have cost close to $400,000 which, for England, is the theoretical equivalent of a $1 million Hollywood effort. It is certainly one of the most expensive pictures ever made there.

The Rise of Catherine the Great

UK

Production

London. Director Paul Czinner; Producer Alexander Korda; Screenplay Arthur Wimperis, Lajos Biro, Melchior Lengyel; Camera Georges Perinal; Editor Harold Young, Stephen Harrison; Music Muir Mathieson; Art Director Vincent Korda

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1934. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Douglas Fairbanks Jr Elisabeth Bergner Flora Robson Gerald du Maurier Irene Vanbrugh Joan Gardner
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