SCARLET EMPRESS, THE (1934)
Vintage original 8 x 10″ (20 x 25 cm.) black-and-white gelatin silver print still photo, USA. Marlene Dietrich, Sam Jaffe, John Loder, C. Aubrey Smith, Gavin Gordon, dir: Josef von Sternberg; Paramount. A fine image for one of film history’s most truly bizarre movies. Perhaps this was Von Sternberg’s answer for Dietrich to her great competitor Greta Garbo’s QUEEN CHRISTINA. While that film attempted to tell an accurate historical account of a historic queen, this film was a major experiment in style.
The basis was the story of Princess Sophia of Germany, who is taken to Russia to marry half-wit Grand Duke Peter (played with aplomb insanity by Jaffe). The Princess is repulsed by him, finds love with a Russian soldier, and produces a son. No one asks questions, and she moves on to become Catherine the Great. Much of the film was silent and drenched in gothic sets, set pieces, and artifice, shot through diffusions of all kinds and lit in expressionistic ways which have never been duplicated. It became an homage by von Sternberg (who was by now obsessed) to Dietrich. Dietrich is swathed in a fur creation by Travis Banton and surrounded by Rococo statues and candles thanks to the art direction of Hans Drier (statues by Peter Ballbusch). This is still number 1495-74 and includes the Paramount credit material at the bottom margin. There is a European ink stamp on the verso. ABOUT FINE.