Rasputin and the Emperess (United States, 1932)

Figure 1.--'Rasputin and the Empoeress' after Rasputin is killed concludes with the Bolsheviks murdering the royal family. While Hollywood publicized this incident, virtually untouched by Hollywood was the millions of Russians that that Stalin either killed or condemned to the Gulag. At the time it was something Stalin had managed to cover up. But it is a subject Hollywood continues to avoid. Just why is an interesting question. The same is true with European film makers.

'Rasputin and the Emperess' was one of the major Hollywood film of 1932. It depicts the family of Tsar Nicholas and the influence of the Siberian faith healer--Rasputin. He is usually described as the 'mad monk'. It is of course a popular story for film makers. The basic story is true, although Hollywood, as in this film, typically insert all kinds of fictional twists. Usually nothing comes of it beyond mangeled history. This time Hollywood got into trouble. The film is notable because it was a kinf of Barrymore family fest. It stared all three Barrymore siblings: John (as Prince Chegodieff), Ethel (as Czarina Alexandra), and Lionel (as Grigori Rasputin). It is the only movie in which all three Barrymore siblings appeared together. The basic story line is now familiar, but not so familiar to movie audiences at the time. The movie begins dramatically with massed chuurch choirs pulled together by Dr. William Axt, MGM's musical director. He organized all the Greek and Russian orthodox church choirs in Los Angeles to sing the celebratory mass which bgins tge film. The reform-minded Prince Paul is depicted as being concerned about the plight of the ling-suffering Russian people and knows a revolution threatens the imperial dynasty. At the center of the drama is the Tarivitch Alexei, ably played by Tad Alexander, a major child star of the early talkies. Alexi is the heir to the imperial throne. The Tsar has a large family, but Alexi is the only boy and thus the only child entitled to inherit the throne. Alexi has hemophilia and a slight bruise can be life-threatening. The royal physician Dr. Remezov and the medical knowledge of the day is powerless to staunch the bleeding, He is loved by the Russian people who are kept unaware of his condition. His parents adore him and are terrified of the slightest tumble. Princess Natasha, the Tsariuna Alexandra's lady-in-waiting, and Prince Paul's fiancee, recommends Rasputin as a healer to the Emperess. Rasputin convinces the frantic Empress that he has been sent by God to cure the child. Left alone with Alexei, he hypnotizes the boy and thus manages to relieve his agony. He thus makes Alexei a slave to his will. The film is not only notable for all the Barrymores together, but because it resulted in a huge law suit fought out in both America and Britain. As a result of the film's inaccurate portrayals of Prince Felix and Irina Yusupov as Prince Chegodieff and Princess Natasha the parties that survived the Revolution and the Bolshevik effort to wipe out the royal family sued MGM. The studio settled out of court, but paid through the nose. The offshhot was the little disclimer one sees in movies and television stating something like the film is a work of fiction and any similarity to actual events is coincidental.


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Created: 5:18 AM 12/30/2011
Last updated: 5:18 AM 12/30/2011