Chapter Five

 

1950-1959

 

 

SHADOW OF THE EAGLE 1950

UK, 1950. Drama. Black and white; English language; Running time: 93 minutes. Directed by Sidney Salkov. Screenplay by Doreen Montgomery and Hagar Wilde, based on a story by Jacques Companéez, derived from a work by Alexander Pushkin. Starring Binnie Barnes as Empress Catherine, Richard Greene as Alexei Orlov, Greta Gynt as Countess Loradona Camponiello, and Valentina Cortese as Princess Elizabeth Tarakanova.

Shadow of the Eagle” is another in the catalogue of fictitious stories woven round the Court of Catherine the Great. The plot, such as it is, details a struggle between the Russian and Polish thrones, and the adventures of Alexei Orlov, who is dispatched by the Empress to arrest Princess Elizabeth Tarakanova, who, from the safety of exile, is trying to lay claim to the Russian Throne. Orlov, portrayed as Catherine’s favorite, finds the Princess in Venice and falls in love with her. They are arrested in one of the film’s most stunning scenes: walking through a deserted Venetian square, they are slowly and suddenly surrounded by a menacing crowd of soldiers whose faces are masked by dominos, an anonymous yet terrifyingly visible threat. The film bears little resemblance to history. Most of the action takes place in Venice, and the city is breathtakingly shot by cinematographer Erwin Hillier (who had shot director Fritz Lang’s masterpiece of German expressionism “M”) in a deep black and white; particularly impressive are the scenes in the Radziwill Palace and the Russian Embassy, and the shot of Orlov’s ship set against the setting sun of the Venetian lagoon. The costumes, too, are incredibly lavish, evoking the splendors of 18th Century Venice in its full glory. Although a splendid film in its own right, “Shadow of the Eagle” has little to do with Catherine the Great, and even less to do with historical fact; as such, it remains a slight curiosity in the body of Romanov-related films. 

 

TANSSI YLI HAUTOJEN 1950

Finland, 1950. Romance. Black and white; Finnish language; Running time: 97 minutes; Directed by Toivo Särkkä; Screenplay by Mika Waltari. Starring Kaarlo Halttunen as Speransky, Mauri Jaakkola as Antti Karppainen, and Leif Wager as Alexander I.

A fictional love story that depicts the tale of a young Finnish girl who falls in love with Emperor Alexander I. 

 

BELINSKY 1951

USSR, 1951. Drama. Black and white; Russian language; Running time: 102 minutes; Directed by Grigori Kozintsev; Screenplay by Yuri German and Grigori Kozintsev. Starring Sergei Kurilov as Belinsky, Aleksandr Borisov as Gertsen, Georgi Vitsin as Gogol, Mikhail Nazvanov as Nicholas I, and M. Afanasyev as Lermontov.

A biographical portrait of 19th Century literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, the film depicts the great Russian literary figures of the era, including portrayals of Gogol, Lermontov, and Turgenev, who struggle against the intrusive and odious censorship of Nicholas I’s Russia. The film was scored by Dmitri Shostakovich. 

 

TARAS SHEVCHENKO 1951

USSR, 1951. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 118 minutes; Directed by Aleksandr Alov and Vladimir Naumov; Screenplay by Igor Savchenko. Starring Sergei Bondarchuk as Taras Shevchenko, and Mikhail Nazvanov as Nicholas I.

A highly fictionalized account of a Cossack in the reign of Nicholas I. 

 

KOMPOZITOR GLINKA 1952

Also known as “Glinka,” and “Man of Music.” USSR, 1952. Drama/musical. Color; Russian language; Running time: Unknown; Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov; Screenplay by Grigori Aleksandrov and Pyotr Pavlenko. Starring Boris Smirnov as Michael Glinka, Lev Durasov as Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Nazvanov as Nicholas I, Irina Likso as Empress Alexandra, and Svyatoslav Richter as Franz Liszt.

Another biographical depiction of the life of Russian composer Michael Glinka. 

 

ANASTASIA 1953

UK, 1953. Television production. Drama. Screenplay by Guy Bolton. Starring Peter Cushing as Peter Petrovsky.

A television production of the Marcelle Maurette and Guy Bolton play. 

 

KORABLI SHTURMUYUT BASTIONY 1953

Also known as “Attack From the Sea” and “Ships Are Storming the Bastions.” USSR, 1953. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 108 minutes (some sources list 94 minutes); Directed by Mikhail Romm; Screenplay by Aleksandr Shtejn. Starring Ivan Pereverzev as Admiral Feodor Ushakov, Boris Livanov as Prince Gregory Potemkin, Olga Zhiznyeva as Catherine the Great, Ivan Solovyov as Admiral Horatio Nelson, I. Molchanov as Lord William Hamilton, V. Lekarev as Napoleon, Sergei Petrov as Alexander Suvorov, Yelena Kuzmina as Emma Hamilton, Ada Vojtsik as Queen Caroline, Pavel Pavlenko as Emperor Paul I, and Mikhail Nazvanov as Alexander I.

A highly fictionalized account of the life of Admiral Feodor Ushakov and the struggles of the Russian Imperial Navy from the reign of Catherine the Great through the war against Napoleon. 

 

THE BLACK PROPHET 1953

US, 1953. US Television production. Series title: “Suspicion;” Episode title: “The Black Prophet;” Original Air Date: March 17, 1953; Black and white; English language; Running time: 50 minutes. Starring Boris Karloff as Rasputin.

A dramatized depiction of Rasputin’s life, with Boris Karloff as the Siberian peasant. 

 

RASPOUTINE 1954

Also known as “Rasputin.” France/Italy, 1954. Drama. Color; French language; Running time: 105 minutes; Directed by Georges Combret; Screenplay by Claude Boissol and Georges Combret. Starring: Pierre Brasseur as Rasputin, Isa Miranda as Empress Alexandra, Robert Burnier as Nicholas II, Renée Faure as Véra Koralli, Jacques Berthier as Felix Yusupov, Claude Laydu as Iliodor, Micheline Francey as Anna Vyrubova, Robert Berri as Lieutenant Sukhotin, Michel Etcheverry as Purishkevich, Jean Lanier as Dr. Lazovert, and Richard Flagey as Grand Duke Dimitri.

According to some sources, this was a rather faithful version of the Rasputin story, with the last half focused on his murder. It is unique in that it apparently posited the presence of actress Vera Koralli in the Moika Palace during Rasputin’s murder. Considering that Felix Yusupov twice sued over inaccurate cinematic depictions of the events of December 1916, it is perhaps notable that he did nothing of the kind on learning of this version of events; in actuality, as the Prince was known to boast on occasion about Koralli’s presence that night, he had little legal room in which to act. 

 

GEROITE NA SHIPKA 1955

Also known as “Ship’s Heroes” and “Heroes of Ships.” USSR/Bulgaria, 1955. Drama. Color; Russian and Bulgarian languages; Running time: 137 minutes; Directed by Sergei Vasilyev; Screenplay by Arkadi Perventsev. Starring Ivan Pereverzev as Katorgin, Viktor Avdyushko as Osnobishin, and I. Kononenko as Alexander II.

A film that dramatizes the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. 

 

DER KONGRESS TANTZ 1955

Also known as “The Congress Dances.” Austria, 1955. Musical/comedy. Color; Germany language; Running time: 105 minutes; Directed by Franz Antel; Screenplay by Kurt Nachmann. Starring Johanna Matz as Christl Weinzinger, Rudolf Prack as Alexander I, Marte Harell as Countess Ballansky, and Karl Schönböck as Count Metternich.

A musical comedy set against the 1815 Congress of Vienna. 

 

WAR AND PEACE 1956

US/Italy, 1956. Drama. Color; English language; Running time: 208 minutes; Directed by King Vidor; Screenplay by Bridget Boland, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy. Starring Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostov, Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezukhov, Mel Ferrer as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, Vittorio Gassman as Anatole, Herbert Lom as Napoleon, Oskar Homolka as General Kutuzov, Anita Ekberg as Helene, Helmut Dantine as Dolokhov, Tullio Carminati as Prince Vassili Kuragine, Barry Jones as Count Rostov, Lea Seidl as Countess Rostov, Anna-Maria Ferrero as Mary Bolkonsky, Wilfrid Lawson as Prince Bolkonsky, May Britt as Sonya Rostov, and Savo Raskovitch as Alexander I.

This epic retelling of Tolstoy’s great novel arouses great controversy. It has been praised for its costumes, sets, cinematography, and sweep, and condemned as overly long, boring, filled with stilted performances, and one of the worst movies ever made. In truth, it falls somewhere between these two polar opposites. The best thing about the movie, undoubtedly, is Audrey Hepburn’s utterly believable performance as Natasha. Hepburn is the heart and soul of this film, and when she is on screen, she rivets attention. Other performances, however, are less successful, particularly those by Ferrer and Fonda in two pivotal roles; both men are wooden, overact terribly, and convey absolutely no authenticity. Herbert Lom’s turn as Napoleon is well done, as is the brief appearance by Savo Raskovitch as Alexander I, and the battle scenes, if not exactly epic in scope, nevertheless manage to convey something of the director’s intended vision.

Critics have rightly pointed out that the screenplay jettisons a good deal of Tolstoy’s narrative and plot, and that the film cannot be considered an accurate depiction; the decision to eliminate so much of the novel’s internal philosophy and narrative structure while retaining the basics of the plot, however, undoubtedly was the correct one. Here, King Vidor focused on that which was central to Tolstoy’s novel-the story of five families torn asunder by Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. In this sense, it is difficult to fault the film; one has only to compare this to the USSR’s 1968 overblown epic of the same novel to see how the inclusion of this philosophical narrative can weigh a story down and bring any hint of action to a crashing halt. 

 

ZAR UND ZIMMERMANN 1956

Also known as “The Tsar and the Carpenter.” East Germany, 1956. Musical; Color; German language; Running time: 101 minutes; Directed by Hans Müller; Screenplay by Albert Lortzing (libretto) and Artur A. Kuhnert (screenplay). Starring Willy A. Kleinau as van Bett, Bürgermeister of Saardam, Bert Fortel as Peter Mikhailov (Peter the Great), and Walther Süssenguth as Admiral Lefort.

A musical retelling of Peter the Great’s time spent in Holland, where he learned shipbuilding. 

 

ANASTASIA, DIE LETZE ZARENTOCHTER 1956

Also known as “The Tsar’s Last Daughter,” and “Is Anna Anderson Anastasia?” West Germany, 1956. Drama. Black and white; Running time: 107 minutes; German language; Directed by Falk Harnack; Screenplay by Herbert Reincker. Starring Lili Palmer as Anna Anderson, Ivan Desny as Gleb Botkin, Käthe Braun as Harriet von Rathleff-Keilmann, Eva Bubat as Gertrud Schanzkowska, Berta Drews as Clara Peuthert, Tilla Durieux as Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Margot Hielscher as Crown Princess Cecilie of Germany, Rudolf Fernau as Professor Serge Botkin, Otto Graf as the Duke of Leuchtenberg, Franziska Kinz as the Duchess of Leuchtenberg, Hans Krull as Prince Friedrich of Saxe-Altenburg, Marina Ried as Doris Wingender, Adelheid Seeck as Princess Irene of Prussia, and Dorothea Wieck as Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna.

Anastasia, Die Letze Zarentochter” has the unique distinction of being the only film in the Anastasia canon produced with the cooperation of Anna Anderson’s lawyers. In 1955, Kurt Vermehren, Anna Anderson’s German lawyer, learned that Twentieth Century Fox was in the midst of negotiating film rights to the Marcelle Maurette stage play. The play, which had taken an ambivalent approach to Anderson’s claim and introduced a number of fictional elements into the story, was not at all to the liking of her supporters. Vermehren himself took the unprecedented step of negotiating with director Falk Harnack in an attempt to gain some control over the production. The eventual film, which starred Lili Palmer as Anna Anderson, was the first to include the real-life characters of Harriet von Rathleff-Keilman, Clara Peuthert, the Duke and Duchess of Leuchtenberg, the family of Franziska Schanzkowska, and Gleb Botkin. While the film itself was an admirable attempt to present a factual record of events in Anderson’s story, there was little inherent drama, and it consisted chiefly of scenes where the claimant discussed her memories and was confronted with meetings of both supporters and detractors, making it more of a docudrama. It did include reference to the Franziska Schanzkowska story, and even included an actress cast in the role of the missing girl’s sister Gertrude, but the idea that Anderson might have been the factory worker was quickly dispensed with as a convenient invention of an overzealous newspaper.

The role won Lili Palmer a Best Actress Award at the 1957 Berlin Film Festival, and was a success in West Germany. But the film, while it incorporated large portions of Anna Anderson’s story, also took great pains to distance itself from any show of support. The studio’s publicity package, in fact, stated that they “do not assert anything, and the so-called Mrs. Anderson may well be the Polish factory hand, Franziska Schanzkowska.”(1) As such, the film did little to set the record straight where Anna Anderson’s claims were concerned, and it quickly sank into obscurity. 

 

ANASTASIA 1956

US, 1956. Drama. Color; Running time: 105 minutes; Directed by Anatole Litvak; Screenplay by Arthur Laurents, adapted from the play by Marcelle Maurette and Guy Bolton. US Theatrical release: December 13, 1956. Starring Ingrid Bergman as Anna Koren, Yul Brynner as General Prince Sergei Bounine, Helen Hayes as Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Akim Tamiroff as Boris Chernov, Martita Hunt as Baroness von Livenbaum, Sacha Pitoeff as Peter Petrovin, and Ivan Desny as Prince Paul von Haraldberg.

In 1954, French playwright Marcelle Maurette penned a three-act play based on the story of Anna Anderson. The play itself was adapted into English by Guy Bolton, and first performed in London, produced by Sir Laurence Olivier to great acclaim. In December 1954, the play moved to New York City and a highly successful Broadway run, starring Viveca Lindfors as Anna Koren (a character clearly based on Anna Anderson), and Eugenie Leontovitch as Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna. The success of the play, coupled with the publicity surrounding Anna Anderson’s West German court case, attracted the attention of Hollywood. Warner Brothers Studio had acquired the rights to the play, but they eventually sold them to Twentieth Century Fox. Spyros Skouras, head of Twentieth Century Fox, envisioned the project as a star vehicle for actress Jennifer Jones.(2) In this, however, he faced considerable opposition. Hearing that they had bought the rights, Darryl Zanuck immediately thought of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, whose affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini had caused her to flee Hollywood in 1949. Zanuck believed that the controversial actress would be perfect for the part of the Anna Anderson character: characterized in the play as an emotionally fragile young woman who had to convey both vulnerability and strength. Skouras remained opposed, fearing that Bergman would prove an unpopular choice. His director, Anatole Litvak, agreed with Zanuck, and further declared that he would proceed with the film only if Bergman was given the part.(3) Faced with open revolt, Skouras relented and agreed to cast Bergman. Arthur Laurent, who adapted the play for the screen, made a number of changes to the Maurette-Bolton text. The location was altered from Berlin to the more photogenic Paris, with selected scenes set in Copenhagen, the real-life home to the Dowager Empress for the last decade of her life. In the play, the climactic recognition scene between Anna Koren and the Dowager Empress turned on the claimant’s memory of a storm while cruising on the Imperial yacht Standart.(4) For the film, Laurent endowed the Anna Anderson character with a nervous cough, which, when confronted with the imposing Dowager Empress, gave her true identity away. The film’s climax was also altered from the stage version. In the Maurette play, Anastasia, her identity restored, is engaged to a distant cousin, Prince Paul, who, charming though he may be, is clearly after her money. Faced with this dim future, she flees into the night.(5) In the film, the Prince Paul character remained, but Anastasia instead fled with Prince Bounine, the man responsible for her eventual reunion with the Dowager Empress. In true Hollywood fashion, Anastasia opts for love. “Anastasia” was filmed between May and August of 1956 at the MGM Borehamwood Studios outside London.(6) A few exteriors of Paris and Copenhagen were filmed on location, including the dramatic opening sequence, when Anna Koren, contemplating suicide, walks the length of the Pont de Alexandre III, the famous bridge across the Seine named in honor of the real Anastasia’s grandfather. The only location filming took place at Knebworth House some thirty miles north of London, which stood in for Hvidore, the Danish villa where the Dowager Empress spent her last years; ironically, Knebworth had been the home of the real Dowager Empress’s son Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and his morganatic wife, Nathalia Sheremetievskaya, during the few years of their English exile.

Anastasia” begins in Paris on Russian Easter, 1928. An amnesic woman, Anna Koren, is trailed from the Russian Cathedral to the Pont de Alexandre III on the Seine, where she is rescued from committing suicide by former White Russian General Prince Sergei Bounine. He spirits her back to the basement of his Russian café, where his motivations are soon revealed. Bounine is working with Boris Chernov (Akim Tamiroff) and Peter Petrovin (Sasha Pitoeff) to bilk the exiled Russian monarchists out of a fortune by claiming to have found Grand Duchess Anastasia, miraculously escaped from the massacre in the Ipatiev House in 1918. Bounine needs a candidate, and in the lonely, suicidal Anna Koren, he has found a woman who bears a startling resemblance to the real Anastasia. Bounine begins an intensive program of training, designed to teach Anna Koren the facts she must know to pass herself off as Anastasia. Soon, the destitute Anna is transformed into woman with a regal bearing and sure command of the facts of Anastasia’s life, including many details that Bounine does not tell her, and which she seems to suddenly recall from memory. A meeting is arranged between Anna and former courtiers and aristocrats; eighteen of the twenty-five sign declarations of recognition of her as Anastasia, but Bounine decides that they must go to the Dowager Empress in Copenhagen for the authoritative word that will allow Anna access to the Romanov fortune. In Copenhagen, Bounine renews a friendship with one of the Dowager Empress’s ladies-in-waiting, Baroness von Livenbaum (played by a delightful Martita Hunt), and gradually Anna is brought to the attention of the real Anastasia’s cousin Prince Paul, who expresses great interest in her and intercedes with Marie Feodorovna to receive her; the film portrays Paul as a man who is as mercenary in his own way as Bounine: both are interested in Anna only for the access she can give them to the Romanov fortune. The dramatic meeting between the Dowager Empress and Anna, during which Marie Feodorovna recognizes the claimant as her missing granddaughter, leads to the film’s climactic scene, a ball organized by the Dowager Empress to present Anastasia to her aristocratic circles and announce her engagement to Prince Paul. Before the ball, Anna is torn between her feelings for Bounine, who has petulantly declared that he will be leaving as he is no longer needed, and remaining with her grandmother and accepting a fate with the mercenary Prince Paul. In the end, Anna escapes with Bounine, leaving everyone except the Dowager Empress to speculate that she was not Anastasia.

Although, at forty-one, Bergman was much older than the real Anna Anderson when she had first appeared in Berlin in 1920, her performance was brilliant and managed to carry the motion picture. She is at once vulnerable and proud, pathetic and regal, and conveys real sympathy. Her performance succeeded, as Zanuck had suggested it would, in restoring her shattered image before the American public, and her return to Hollywood was cemented when she won the Best Actress Academy Award the following year for her portrayal (her second Oscar-the first was for 1944’s “Gaslight”). Yul Brynner, fresh from his triumph in “The King and I,” portrayed General Prince Sergei Bounine as a martinet, albeit one who becomes enchanted with the woman he has plucked from obscurity to star in his charade. And Helen Hayes, as the formidable Dowager Empress, managed to appear imperious and resolute, qualities for which the real Marie Feodorovna was well known.

Shot in Technicolor and cinemascope, the look of the film was lavish. It was budgeted at $3.5 million, an extraordinarily-high sum for 1956.(7) The money that did not go to pay the actors’ salaries went toward the lavish sets by Andrew Low, the array of costumes and Russian Court gowns by Rene Hubert, and the rich orchestration of Alfred Newman’s musical score. The success of the film renewed interest in the plight of Anna Anderson. When Maurette had originally written her play, she had no idea if Anna Anderson was still alive; when she discovered that she was, an arrangement was worked out, by which Anderson, then living in West Germany, received some $30,000 in royalties.(8) 

 

GREAT CATHERINE 1958

UK, 1958. Television Production. Black and white; English language; Running time: 60 minutes; Directed by Barry Morse, based on the play by George Bernard Shaw. Starring Sydney Sturgess as Catherine the Great.

Another retelling of the George Bernard Shaw comedy about Catherine the Great. 

 

LA TEMPESTA 1958

Also known as “The Tempest.” Italy/France/Yugoslavia, 1958. Drama. Color; Italian language; Running time: 120 minutes; Screenplay by Ivo Perilli, based on a novel by Alexander Pushkin. Starring Silvana Mangano as Masha, Van Heflin as Emelyan Pugachev, Viveca Lindfors as Catherine the Great, Agnes Moorehead as Vassilissa Mironova, Oskar Homolka as Savelic, Vittorio Gassman as the Prosecutor, and Laurence Naismith as Major Zurin.

A fairly authentic, straightforward account of the Pugachev rebellion during the reign of Catherine the Great, which benefits immensely from good costumes and sets, and excellent performances. 

 

RASPUTIN 1958

Argentina, 1958. Television Production. Color; Spanish language; Running time: Unknown; Directed by Ernesto Mas; Screenplay by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Starring Narciso Ibáñez Menta as Rasputin.

A television drama about Rasputin. 

 

JOHN PAUL JONES 1959

US, 1959. Drama. Color (Technicolor); English language; Running time: 126 minutes; Directed by John Farrow; Screenplay by John Farrow and Jesse Lasky, Jr. Starring Bette Davis as Catherine the Great, Robert Stack as John Paul Jones, Charles Coburn as Benjamin Franklin, Marisa Pavan as Aimee de Tellison, Macdonald Carey as Patrick Henry, Jean-Pierre Aumont as King Louis XVI, David Farrar as John Wilkes, Peter Cushing as Captain Pearson and Susana Canales as Marie Antoinette.

An epic historical tale, “John Paul Jones” features a brief appearance by Bette Davis as Catherine the Great. When John Paul Jones fled America to avoid charges that he had killed several of his crew, he eventually ended up in Russia, where he accepted a commission from the Empress as a Rear Admiral in the Imperial Navy. At the time, Catherine was in need to competent naval commanders in her fight against the Turks on the Black Sea, although the film suggests that his promotion may have had to do more with his physical appearance. In real life, Jones suffered at the hands of his Russian comrades, who viewed him with both suspicion and, as a new Rear Admiral, with immense resentment. In the end, Jones left Russia in the midst of a scandal, said to have involved an underage girl, to avoid imprisonment. 

 

KATIA, 1959

Also known as “The Magnificent Sinner” (US). France, 1959. Drama. Color; French language; Running time: 91 minutes; Directed by Robert Siodmak; Screenplay by Georges Neveux and Charles Spaak. Starring Romy Schneider as Princess Catherine Dolgoruky, Curd Jurgens as Alexander II, and Monique Melinard as Empress Marie Alexandrovna.

A highly inaccurate, melodramatic retelling of the love affair between Alexander II and Catherine Dolgoruky, “Katia” was the second motion picture of the same name to be based on their liaison and morganatic alliance. The concentration in this telling is on the romance, and there is a breathless, schoolgirl sort of quality to the film as a whole, as though imagined by a group of Smolny Institute students.

The film opens at a meeting between Alexander II and his ministers, in which the problems of Russia’s growing revolutionary movement are discussed. As a contrast to the pomp and splendor of this setting, the film moves swiftly to the Smolny Institute, where young Catherine is engaged in a schoolgirl battle with her classmates over a small oval portrait of the Emperor.

Her vibrancy is also contrasted to the cold, sickly demeanor of Empress Marie Alexandrovna, who Alexander II visits in her apartments in the Winter Palace. She is portrayed as a cold, unpleasant woman, unable and unwilling to engage in the social obligations of her position. Alexander visits the Smolny Institute, and is presented to the various pupils. He is immediately taken with young Catherine, and spirits her off on a picturesque sledge ride through the snow-covered countryside. Their obvious attraction to each other is later echoed during a ball at the Winter Palace, where Catherine is presented to the Emperor and Empress. Marie Alexandrovna notices the apparent interest shown by her husband to the young; unwell, she leaves the festivities. The Emperor seizes upon the opportunity to summon Catherine, and he duly opens the ball with her.

Very quickly, the romance between Alexander II and Catherine has blossomed, and they begin to spend long, romantic evenings at a secluded house in the country. Catherine follows the Emperor to Paris in 1867, where, on a state visit to Emperor Napoleon III, he is the victim of an assassination attempt. A second assassination attempt takes place once the Emperor has returned to Russia, during one of his frequent visits to Catherine at her family’s country estate.

These various plots against the Emperor’s life prompt discussion among his ministers of the risks he is taking to pursue his relationship with Catherine. The Empress is also worried, and eventually summons her rival to her apartments in the Winter Palace. After treating Catherine with disdain, the Empress reluctantly appoints her as a lady-in-waiting, saying that it is only for the sake of her husband as she does not want him to unduly risk his life through his continued adventures. She then falls away in dead faint and dies of shock.

Shortly after the Empress’s death, Alexander II marries Catherine. During the ceremony, however, as the couple prepares to kiss, an anarchist throws a bomb, which disrupts the proceedings. Catherine flees to her private apartments, where she finds one of the terrorists, a woman who has been wounded by her own bomb. As the terrorist threatens her life, Catherine argues with her, telling her that the Emperor is preparing to grant a constitution. Eventually, she shows the terrorist a secret passage and allows her to escape.

The released terrorist returns to her comrades and tries to talk them out of further action. But they insist that their plans proceed. On the very day that Catherine is to be crowned Empress, a bomb is thrown at the Emperor, killing him. Catherine is left along, standing at the side of her husband’s blood stained body, still dressed in her coronation robes.

Katia” bears little resemblance to the historical liaison between Alexander II and Catherine Dolgoruky. Dates are ignored, actual incidents are truncated, and scenes of high, fictional melodrama are imposed. The sets were lavish depictions of the Winter Palace and Smolny Institute, and the costumes were, if not authentic recreations of actual clothes, then at least of the period. Visually, the film is a rewarding experience, washed in the rich hues of Technicolor. But, as a historical account of the life of Catherine Dolgoruky, it is hopelessly flawed. 

 

AGI MURAD IL DIAVOLO BIANCO 1959

Also known as “The White Warrior.” Italy/Yugoslavia, 1959. Adventure. Color; Italian language; Running time: 91 minutes; Directed by Riccardo Freda; Screenplay by Gino De Santis and Ákos Tolnay, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy. Starring Steve Reeves as Hadji Murad, Giorgia Moll as Sultanet, Haslem Bey’s daughter, Scilla Gabel as Princess Marie Vorontzov, Renato Baldini as Ahmed Khan, Gérard Herter as Prince Serge, Milivoje Zivanovic as Nicholas I, and Nikola Popovic as King Shamil.

Agi Murad, Il Diavolo Bianco” is a prime example of what has come to be termed a “sword and sandal” epic, a mediocre film of the 1950s or 1960s, usually Italian in origin, that portrays some mythical battle or life, such as that of Hercules; Reeves, in fact, portrayed Hercules in a number of films, so this motion picture was not a stretch.

The basic tale is simple enough. Reeves is Hadji Murad, a rebel hero in Southeastern Russia in the reign of Nicholas I, who battles the invading Tsarist and Turkish forces to protect his villagers. The film benefited from direction by Riccardo Freda, a man of distinction and insightful composition who made a name for himself in Italian horror movies of the period.  

 

1. James Blair Lovell, “Anastasia: The Lost Princess,” Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1991, Quoted, 222.

2. Donald Spoto, “Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman,” New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997, 321. 

3. Ingrid Bergman, “My Story,” New York: Delacorte Press, 1980, 332.

4. Marcelle Maurette, “Anastasia,” English Adaptation by Guy Bolton, New York: Random House, 1955, 120.

5. Maurette, 179-180.

6. Spoto, 322.

7. Ibid.

8. Peter Kurth, “Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson,” Boston: Little, Brown, 1983, 270.

 

 

“The Romanovs in Film” is copyright 1999-2000, 2006 by Greg King. ISSN 1525-111X. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be produced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including copying, or by any information storage system and retrieval system, or computer system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.