Catherine the Great (1934)

Genres - Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Period Film  |   Release Date - Feb 9, 1934 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

As biopic, Catherine the Great is uneven and certainly plays loose with the truth (and certainly with the legend) surrounding one of Russia's most famous imperial rulers. Excusing the empress' supposed sexual insatiability by claiming it was all part of a plan to make her wandering husband jealous is but one of the liberties the screenwriters have taken with history (as is telescoping the time between Catherine and Peter's marriage and her assumption of the throne from seventeen years to two or three), but this wouldn't matter so much if the script had a dramatic life and vibrancy. Unfortunately, much of it is disjointed, with sections where it feels as if whole scenes have been cut. Catherine's transformation from shy waif to a towering ruler is totally missing, making the sudden appearance of a woman who wears military clothing and jokes and flirts with her soldiers seem odd, to say the least. Fortunately, Catherine has a trio of fascinating performers to help smooth over these bumps. Elizabeth Bergner, all saucer eyes and seemingly fragile as a bird, perfectly captures the young Catherine's vulnerability. More impressively, she is entirely believable as Catherine the supremely powerful ruler, summoning forth stores of anger and strength that one would not expect could come from such a small figure. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. has less to work with, but he handles the character's madness with aplomb, and Flora Robson is a delight as the elder empress, leavening her regal bearing with a sneer and a love of the commonplace. Though Paul Czinner cannot pull the disparate threads of the screenplay together, he handles the actors well and has a fair visual flair (helped immensely by the lavish sets and cos