The Scarlet Empress

Directed by Josef von Sternberg, 1934

Written by William Bradford Huie, from the Diaries of Catherine II


Consider questions of mise-en-scene. How would you describe the look of this film, its painterly sense of visual composition? Is it realistic or artificial, deep or shallow, full or empty? What sort of lighting does the film use, and what emotions does this evoke? Does so extravagant an overall look forward the story, or interfere with it?

What do you make, in particular, of the sets representing the Russian court? How is the viewer positioned with regard to these sets? What point of view does the camera present?

How do we respond to the central figure of this film, the star, Marlene Dietrich? How does the film foreground her? What kind of sexual presence, and what sort of gender patterns, does she suggest? What kind of character does she play? Does she lose herself in the role, or do we remain aware of her as an actress and as a star?