This excellent historical epic gathers the royal family of the American stage, the only film in which the three dynamic Barrymores appeared together. A feast for the eyes, it bids a lavish farewell to the Russian imperium. An even greater treat is to see the magnificent Barrymores vie with
each other for every frame of this memorable film.
Starving peasants are in the streets and revolution is in the air, but the weak Czar Nicholas II (Ralph Morgan) and his strong-willed Czarina Alexandra (Ethel Barrymore) are preoccupied with the health of their son (Tad Alexander), a hemophiliac. When the boy suffers a fall, he begins to bleed to
death and his doctors are helpless. The desperate Empress hears of a mystical holy man who may save the young prince and bids him to court. Rasputin (Lionel Barrymore) hypnotizes the child and appears to save him. Thereafter, Alexandra becomes devoted to the Mad Monk, who sees an opportunity to
seize power. He uses Alexandra's dependency on him to assume authority and slowly begins to take control, naming his own graft-paying cronies to high office, stealing a fortune from the public treasury, and casting a covetous eye on the older royal daughters.
Director Boleslawsky moves things along at a fair clip, while Charles MacArthur's screenplay displays deep sympathy for the royal couple and their afflicted son, but shows the revolutionaries as unthinking brutes. Not surprisingly, this stance did not endear the film to Stalin; it was banned in
the USSR. This was a pet project of MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, whose inspiration it was to star the three Barrymores in the lead roles. He had no trouble signing John and assigning Lionel, who was then an MGM contract player. But Ethel, a grand dame of Broadway theater, was a different
matter. With a Broadway commitment looming, she agreed to play the Empress only if the Hollywood-based production could be completed in eight weeks. Thalberg agreed and Ethel traveled to the West Coast to join her brothers in their first effort together since they had appeared in Camille in
Baltimore, circa 1916. True to her word, Ethel marched off the set at the end of her time as stipulated by her contract, leaving Boleslawsky (who had replaced Charles Brabin) to shoot around her.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: This excellent historical epic gathers the royal family of the American stage, the only film in which the three dynamic Barrymores appeared together. A feast for the eyes, it bids a lavish farewell to the Russian imperium. An even greater treat is to see t… (more)