Marlene Dietrich stars in Josef von Sternberg’s feverishly debauched biopic as the spoiled princess Sophia Frederica, who grows up being groomed for greatness and yearning for a handsome husband. Sent to Russia to marry the Grand Duke Peter, she is horrified to discover that her betrothed is a half-wit and her new home a macabre palace where depravity rules. Before long, however, she is initiated into the sadistic power politics that govern the court, paving the way for her transformation into the imperious libertine Catherine the Great. A lavish spectacle in which von Sternberg’s domineering visual genius reaches new heights of florid extravagance, The Scarlet Empress
is a perversely erotic portrait of a woman—and a movie star—capable of bringing legions to heel.