Author Topic: 1932 movie "Rasputin and the Empress"  (Read 27914 times)

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Offline RichC

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1932 movie "Rasputin and the Empress"
« on: October 18, 2004, 02:10:49 PM »
Has anyone ever seen the film Rasputin and the Empress, which starred the Barrymores?  Any good??

It's the film that Yussopov sued and won a lot of money over.  Does anyone know if it's available on DVD?  Amazon has it on VHS but I'm looking for the DVD version.

Many thanks in advance!

Offline Robert_Hall

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2004, 02:19:10 PM »
I have it on tape. I do not know if a dvd exists.
It is fun, for the Barrymores. Not a shred of truth to it and it shows age [movie making style].
Strictly camp, not to ba taken even remotely seriously.
Cheers,
Robert
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Offline RichC

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2004, 09:17:29 PM »
Thank you, Robert.  I just read on another thread that Ethel Barrymore may have actually met Alexandra and that she was coached for the performance by people who knew the Empress.  So, I'm looking forward to seeing it!
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by RichC »

Offline Greg_King

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2004, 08:53:26 AM »
It does, however, have fairly good sets and costumes, including recreations of the Cathedral of the Assumption, the St. Andrei Hall in the Kremlin Palace, and Nicholas's Study in the Alexander Palace, as well as gowns and jewels specifically copied by the wardrobe department from exisiting models.  Just ignore the fact that the bushy-haired kid playing Alexei has a Brooklyn accent!

Greg King

Offline azrael7171918

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2004, 11:49:37 AM »
 I remember it well and have the vhs.

 MGM or whomever owns the films now (MGM films have been bought out by so many companies it's hard to keep track) is very stingy with dvd's.

I have the souvenir book from the film (from ebay) and there was quite a bit of assistance from Russians in the states (after all it was less than 20 years since the revolution)

Unfortunately the studio didn't think about the prelude and the name changes of characters which would bring the expensive lawsuit.

If you are interested there is a lobby card that shows up on ebay from the final scene  plus the book based on one of the screenplays written by Charles McArthur ( interesting fact he was the husband of Helen Hayes who would portray the Empress Marie in Anastasia)

Azrael

Offline Annie

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2004, 02:50:34 PM »
I think it was awful. This is the one Felix and Irina Yussoupov sued over and won. (they thought 2 of the characters were based on them) This led to the famous disclaimer seen today 'any resemblance between anyone living or dead is purely coincidental'  Also thanks to that lawsuit, chunks of the movie had to be edited out leaving what we see today as choppy and not making sense in some places.

Offline Janet_W.

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2004, 03:20:11 PM »
For me, Rasputin and the Empress is a curiosity. In fact, long before Nicholas and Alexandra, I would come across references to Rasputin and the Empress in my mom's film books, re: a local wax museum, etc., and these references--along with a Reader's Digest article, "I Killed Rasputin," condensed from Yussopov's memoirs, ignited my interest while I was still a child.

Finally--about five years ago--I found a copy of Rasputin and the Empress and purchased it. We can excuse the film for being "not very good" by saying that it is simply old, but the fact of the matter is that some very fine films were made at that time and still hold up quite well. After reading more on the subject, however, I found that Rasputin and the Empress found disfavor with honest critics (as opposed to movie studio toadies) from the moment it first came out. The production was beset by all sorts of problems, and generally these problems evolved from one, two, or all three of the Barrymores. That's largely why the script seems so uneven . . .  the writers were having to pander to a trio of sibling egos, and consequently the finished product has a very slap/dash look to it. So, yes, the film is seriously flawed, but still of interest to any Romanovophile, and as Greg mentioned, certain production aspects are top-notch for those times.

However, I remember that some years ago my Russian History prof chuckled about how "Lionel Barrymore really chewed the scenery," and I would have to agree!

Offline anna

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2004, 06:42:30 PM »
I would love to lay hands on that film, despite of all critics. I've read the Barrymores were great, but the direction wasn't that good. Because it's an oldy I think it must be difficult to find a copy..and no dvd I think. Anyone suggestions?

Anna
Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Offline Greg_King

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2004, 11:40:28 PM »
It should be fairly easy to find if it's still in print.  I remember I bought my VHS copy in 1993 when it first came out and had to pay $90; now you should be able to find it on Amazon or ebay for $10-15.

Greg King

Offline azrael7171918

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2004, 09:50:44 AM »
Greg
   You got taken to the cleaners on the vhs I bought when it first came and I Know it didn't cost me that much. I would have waited till the price went down.

Azrael

Offline Silja

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2004, 02:23:05 PM »
I also think the film is interesting. The script is so absurd that it's rather funny. But Ethel Barrymore is actually quite good.

Offline Janet_W.

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2004, 03:07:25 PM »
Videos were initially quite expensive. Then suddenly the price dropped. But to own any movie in those days was a delirious sort of feeling. Before that time, we were dependent on the whims of the television schedulers.  So to pay $90 or more--if you really really wanted that movie--was a priviledge, believe me!

Offline Janet_W.

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #12 on: October 20, 2004, 03:46:26 PM »
Regarding the film and its legal issues, I just found this and thought it might be of interest:

RASPUTIN And The Libel Lawyers
We've all read the familiar credit line "...the characters in this photoplay are fictional and bear no resemblance to real persons living or dead..." Ever wonder where it came from?

In 1932 MGM released RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS, a lavish retelling of the last days of Czarist Russia in the court of Nicholas and Alexandra. The story boasted weighty roles for all three of the Barrymores, MGM's most famous acting family. A character named Prince Chegodieff was created for John, Ethel played Alexandra, and Lionel got the plum role of the power-crazed monk Rasputin. Events and characters were embellished and combined, but by and large the historical content stayed faithful to the facts.

Too faithful. Lying in wait for the release of RASPUTIN was Princess Irina Yousoupoff, the genuine niece of the Czar. Living in exile in Paris, she must have found out about the film's content before its release. When RASPUTIN premiered simultaneously in several European capitols, the Princess had a separate libel lawsuit ready to file in each country where the film played. In her suit she claimed that the film's character Princess Natasha, played by Diana Wynward, was meant to represent her. This Princess Natasha is depicted as sexually compromised by the evil Rasputin, thus smearing the honor of the real Princess Irina, according to the lawsuit. In 1932 the events of the Russian Revolution were only fifteen years old, and sympathy in the West for the large community of exiled White Russians was high.

The Princess won her case in London, where the film had been released as RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK, to the tune of $125,000, an enormous sum in the depression era. Helping the case become worldwide news was dramatic testimony that included a firsthand account by Irina's husband, Prince Yousoupoff, of the gruesome details of Rasputin's untimely end. This is the famous, and apparently true, tale in which the madman absorbed poison, bullets, and brutal clubbings with little effect. Incidentally, this is also the highlight of the film, and unexpectedly violent for its time.

MGM probably identified with Rasputin's torment; it reportedly later settled for yet higher sums to keep the case out of courts in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Frederick S. Clarke detailed this fascinating bit of film history in the very first issue of his Cinefantastique magazine back in 1970*. He mentions MGM having to apologize to the Princess and amending the film with the 'purely fictional' notice. What he doesn't talk about is the film itself, which I believe was heavily censored by MGM to remove those scenes offensive to the Princess. Prints of RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS shown on Home Video and on Cable TV's Turner Classic Movies have an identical series of frustrating cuts, all around the 'Princess Natasha' character. When Lionel Barrymore's Rasputin begins to consolidate his power in the Czar's court, he uses some pretext to get Natasha to his private apartment, where ... a jarring cut curtails the scene. Soon thereafter, Natasha is seen moping and distressed whenever Rasputin's name is mentioned, and panics at the thought of the monk being left alone with one of the royal children. Natasha's role is crucial in the scene where Alexandra finally sees through Rasputin's deceit; the scene is chopped just as the distraught Princess is finally about to disclose some awful personal secret to the Czarina. It seems clear that in the original cut Princess Natasha was either seduced or raped by the evil monk, with or without the aid of hypnosis, and threatened with humiliation should she speak against him. This was a pre-Hays code production, when such sordid plot complications weren't unusual. If the subplot had been deemed too risque, it would have been jettisoned in the script stage. That's the American way.

RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS ended up being a fiscal headache for MGM. Even with the cuts it manages to tell its story well, and holds its own against 1971's NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA, which covers some of the same events.

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Offline anna

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #13 on: October 20, 2004, 04:41:13 PM »
Janet, this is interesting, I never knew the exact facts. Isn't it time to release the full uncut version? Or is this by rights impossible, I don't know if the verdict is still legal?

Well it's still available, Amazon.co.uk is selling it for 15.00 GBP if I'm correct that's about $ 28.00 USD. That'll do.

Anna
Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Offline Janet_W.

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Re: Rasputin and the Empress
« Reply #14 on: October 20, 2004, 06:05:49 PM »
Hi Anna--

These days extra, unused film is preserved and shows up on DVDs. However, in the 1930s outtakes and excess film footage were often trashed. And, given the legal issues re: the scenes which were removed, this footage was probably destroyed. But who knows . . . maybe someday they will show up?

Janet