RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS (1932)
Article #887 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-19-2003
Posting Date: 1-16-2004
Directed by Richard Boleslawski
Featuring Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore
This is the story of Rasputin’s rise to power and his role in the destruction of Russia.
Rasputin is such a colorful and powerful historical personage that cinematic tellings of his story almost inevitably lend themselves to being included in the horror genre; certainly, the use of hypnotism in this one falls within the realms of horror. Nonetheless, this movie approaches him from a historical standpoint, but it never quite reaches the epic sweep to which it aspires. The first thirty minutes is somewhat confusing, partly because of the welter of character introductions and the difficulty of tackling those Russian names. Surprisingly, it is Lionel who plays Rasputin rather than John, who I think would have been wonderful in the role. As a matter of fact, I also thought Lionel could have been wonderful in the role also, but unfortunately it seems he takes this opportunity to give one of the ripest and hammiest performances of his career; the power of the character becomes diffused and is lost within the distractions and scenery-chewing. It doesn’t destroy the movie, but it prevents it from reaching the dramatic heights that it could have attained. The best scene involves Rasputin forcing the son of the empress to watch a battle between an ant and a fly.
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