Essential Cinema: Dietrich/Sternberg in Hollywood


Directed by Josef von Sternberg

USA, 1934, 1h 44min, DCP

Essential Cinema  Dietrich/Sternberg in Hollywood

There are no current or future screenings planned for this film.

“THE SCARLET EMPRESS is Sternberg’s most sumptuous exercise in style, a tapestry of tyranny so intricately woven and luminously lit that audiences and critics of the time were stupefied. It shatters the decorum which was spreading over the American cinema like a shroud. Its very outrageousness is an index of the repressive reasonableness of most movie-making of its time.”
—Andrew Sarris

“Scorning to employ the humdrum laws of dramatic development, Sternberg has created a bizarre and fantastical historical carnival… A ponderous, strangely beautiful, lengthy, and frequently wearying production, his new work is strictly not a dramatic photoplay at all, but a succession of overelaborated scenes, dramatized emotional moods, and gaudily plotted visual excitements… The players… seem to lose their hold on humanity under Sternberg’s narcotic influence and become like people struggling helplessly in a dream.” – Bosley Crowther, New York Times

“Certainly among the most bewildering and bizarre films ever to emerge from a major Hollywood studio.”
Danny Peary

“The film was, of course, a relentless excursion into style, which, taken for granted in any work of art, is considered unpardonable in this medium.”
Josef von Sternberg

Josef von Sternberg’s love of overlapping textures and layers is given full rein in this historically questionable biopic of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. Stunningly designed in every way and a perfect showcase for Marlene Dietrich’s sardonic wit.

Scarlet Empress