“There’s something clammy about him… I’d have the same feeling brushing up against something in the dark night.”
In the Russian court of Czar Nicholas (Ralph Morgan), Czarina Alexandra (Ethel Barrymore), and Czarevitch Aloysha (Tad Alexander), the duplicitous “holy man” Rasputin (Lionel Barrymore) worms his way to the top, while Prince Chegodieff (John Barrymore) does what he can to stop him.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Edward Arnold Films
- Ethel Barrymore Films
- Historical Drama
- John Barrymore Films
- Lionel Barrymore Films
- Royalty and Nobility
- Social Climbers
Like many Hollywood costume dramas, Rasputin and the Empress takes ample liberty with historical facts, focusing more on character than veracity: Lionel Barrymore’s Rasputin is appropriately wild-eyed and scummy, sister Ethel is adequately regal, and brother John provides a consistent voice of reason. The dialogue (by, among others, Charles MacArthur and an uncredited Ben Hecht) and elaborate set designs are enjoyable; otherwise, Rasputin remains a rather tepid affair, one which will annoy history buffs and only provide minimal enjoyment to most film fanatics. Watch it simply to see the three Barrymores in action, as well as for its legal notoriety (see note below).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- All three Barrymore siblings acting together in one film
- Sumptuous sets, costumes, and cinematography
- Rasputin forcing Aloysha to witness an ant and fly battling each other to the death
No. Although it holds some historical importance as the film which prompted the disclaimer, “Any resemblance to actual persons…” to be added to historical dramatizations, it’s ultimately not must-see viewing.