The Scarlet Empress (1934)

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The Scarlet Empress is a 1934 historical drama film made by Paramount Pictures about the life of Catherine the Great. It was directed and produced by Josef von Sternberg from a screenplay by Eleanor McGeary, loosely based on the diary of Catherine arranged by Manuel Komroff. Substantial historical liberties are taken.

The film stars von Sternberg's lover Marlene Dietrich as Catherine, supported by John Davis Lodge, Sam Jaffe, Louise Dresser, and C. Aubrey Smith. Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva plays Catherine as a child.

The Scarlet Empress was one of the last mainstream Hollywood motion pictures to be released before the Hays Code was strictly enforced, and the film, which among other things depicts topless women being burnt at the stake, was "condemned" by the Catholic Legion of Decency as "morally objectionable". The Scarlet Empress remains one of Marlene Dietrich's most frank and suggestive films, portraying Russia's future queen Catherine the Great first as a wide eyed innocent, quickly becoming a sexually-hungry dominatrix. The film is filled with erotic images and motifs. It is viewed much more positively by modern critics.