A Royal Scandal (1945)
Directors: Ernst Lubitsch and Otto Preminger.
Starring: Tallulah Bankhead (Catherine the Great), Charles Coburn (Chancellor Nicolai Iiyitch), Anne Baxter (Countess Anna Jaschikoff), William Eythe (Lt. Alexei Chernoff), Vincent Price (Marquis de Fleury), Mischa Auer (Capt. Sukov), Sig Ruman (Gen. Ronsky), Vladimir Sokoloff (Malakoff), Mikhail Rasumny (Drunken general).
love life of Russian Czarina Catherine the Great
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"This picture is about Catherine of Russia. Her people called her the "Mother of all the Russias." Her biographers called her "The Great". Our story takes place at the time of her life when she was not so much of a mother Ė but when she was especially great."
Countess Anna arrives to tell the other ladies in waiting that the Commander of the Palace Guard Variatinsky is out. The Chancellorís aide comes in and calls for Countess Anna. His Excellency wants to see her immediately. Anna tells the Chancellor that Variatinsky has been receiving a lot of abuse these days. So much that he actually talked back to Her Majesty, Catherine II. Today she threw at him that porcelain horse she got from Frederick the Great. Variatinsky then pushed her and she fell on her back. But then he begged for Her Majestyís forgiveness. They hear a shot from outside. It seems that Variatinsky tried to shoot himself but missed.
A group of Russian military men are going to take advantage of the fact that Variatinsky is out and the position of Commander of the Palace Guard is vacant. General Michael Nicolai Vladimirovich Ronksy says his nephew should fill the spot. But nephew Boris says he wants to go back to the Ural Mountains. Ronsky tells his nephew that taking the post would mean: "You will have the whole guard at my disposal." The other men tell Ronsky that Boris is too dumb for the job. Ronsky rejects this saying that most of the former palace guard commanders were illiterate in some form.
The Chancellor tells his aide Malafokk that he must stop Ronsky from putting in his nephew as head of the palace guard. Until the pact with France is signed he doesnít want Her Majesty introduced to any "possible hostile elements."
A man named Alexei escapes from jail for a third time, which gets him noticed by the Chancellor. The fellow tells the commander of the east gate that Russia is in danger and he must see Her Majesty. He tells the commander that he must send for his fiancťe Countess Anna Jaschikoff, who will vouch for him. The French ambassador is arriving and the commander rushes out of the room leaving the man alone.
Louis XVís ambassador is Monsieur le Marquis. He meets with the Chancellor. The Chancellor scolds the ambassador for staying over two days in Warsaw to be with a woman. He asks who is the woman? Madam Olga Polonska. His Excellency knows the infamous Olga and they toast to her.
Alexei enters the room through a secret passage. The Chancellor is shocked. Alexei tells him he must see Her Majesty because Russia is in danger. The Chancellor asks him what is it, but he says the information is only for the ears of Her Majesty. Anna comes in and she and Alexei kiss. She asks him why he is here, but he wonít tell her saying that she might be hurt if she got involved in the matter. The Chancellor tells Alexei not to move. He takes the ambassador in to see Catherine.
Chancellor Nicolai Illytch goes in first to speak with Catherine. She tells him that if all the recent allegations against him are true he will have to be shot five times. The Chancellor says she should investigate, but she refuses saying he might be guilty and she needs him too much to lose him.
Catherine is not so sure she wants to make an alliance with France. The Chancellor says the Prussians will attack them again as soon as they make an alliance with the Turks. Catherine asks the Chancellor what do they want from the Turks? Nicolai answers: "Nothing but the Crimea." The Crimea would give them access to the Black Sea.
Lt. Alexei Chernolff of the 5th Hussars bursts into the room to speak with Catherine. He tells her that Generals Pokrowsky and Gershin are planning treason. Catherine scolds the Chancellor for not telling her this. But Nicolai has already handled the matter. He gave 50,000 rubbles to each general to kill the other and just recently their two funerals were held.
Her Majesty likes the look of the lieutenant and his devotion to her. She promotes him to Captain and says he will stay in Variatinskyís old suite. She also orders a new white uniform for him. She then tells him to report to her at 10 p.m. to tell her all about the western front. To Nicolai she says to cancel tonightís dinner for the French ambassador.
Nicolai talks with Alexei. In a friendly manner, he tells him for his own sake and for Anna's that he must try to go back to the western front. There is too much intrigue at court for a good man like himself. Alexei tells him that he doesnít want to be studied. He is going to tell Her Majesty just what he feels.
Catherine is more interested in Alexei than his report. She gives him a glass of champagne. They toast to the spring. She asks him about the girls in his life. He says he has had some girls, but that is all over now that he is in love. She decides that he should go back to the western garrison because she needs someone there who she can depend upon. But when she learns from him that the Chancellor suggested already that he leave for the western front, she changes her mind. Catherine tells Alexei that she and she only will be the one to tell him if he is to go back to the western front. She is the one who commands, not the Chancellor. Catherine now promotes him to major.
Alexei says she looked so magnificent when she got angry awhile ago. Catherine tells him: "It is so good to meet someone really devoted to the throne." She tells him that she is unhappy, always surrounded by officials and never left alone. Catherine says sheís lonely. She also says that she has many enemies and when someone enters the room she doesnít know if itís friend or enemy. Alexei promises her that he will protect her against any and all or her enemies. Catherine says she is so pleased with him that she could kiss him and so she does.
Alexei says in amazement that he kissed Catherine the Great. She asks him: "Why did you do it? I wish you hadnít." She kisses him again and then he really kisses her while also hugging her close to him. The Empress tells him to call her Catherine.
There is a comic exchange between Ronsky and the Chancellor concerning the Chancellorís suspicions about Ronskyís loyalty to Her Majesty.
A servant awakens the sleeping Alexei, who now is a colonel. General Ronsky wants to speak with him. Ronsky is only one of many waiting to see (or rather flatter) Alexei. He wants to get Alexei on his side, but their talk is interrupted. Her Majesty wants to see Alexei.
Alexei runs into Anna. She makes fun of his revolutionary rise in rank. Now he is commander of the palace guard. He apologizes for not seeing her, but she over-sweetly says thatís alright. She is angry at him and asks him how does it feel to be Her Majestyís newest toy? Anna says when he came here he was a soldier. But now heís just a puppet, a plaything. She says heís such a fool that she canít even hate him.
Catherine comes into the area and tells Alexei that they will go for a ride in the country together. When Anna leaves, Catherine calls him darling. She says they will have a little picnic this afternoon all alone. Alexei explains to her that he is a soldier of a different kind. He needs to be in the field of battle where he can do something important. Catherine tells him he is hurting her. She though he was the one person who could help her with her problems; someone who could advise her without selfish motives. She flatters him by saying she listened to every word he spoke about such problems as those of the peasants. To keep him busy, Catherine sends him down to the Minister of the Interior to find out more about the peasants.
Catherine goes to see the Chancellor. She finds him napping and scolds him. Catherine tells him that someoneís been putting ideas into the Colonelís head and she wants him to find out who it is.
But Catherine finds out herself. The commander of the east gate comes to her to plead that he not be lowered in rank because Alexei got in to see Her Majesty. He mentions he wouldnít even notify his fiancť in the palace. And boom. Now Catherine knows whoís been talking to Alexei.
Anna is with the Chancellor crying about Alexei. A lady in waiting comes to tell Anna that the Empress is extremely angry and she wants to see her right away. But when Anna goes to Catherine the Empress is overly, uncharacteristically nice to her. Then Anna learns why. The Empress wants her to go on a long vacation for her health. Anna tries to get out of it, but Catherine insists she go home to see her dear little mother.
Anna reminds the Empress that she is thirty-seven years old and Alexei is only twenty-four. This angers Catherine and she tells Anna to beg her forgiveness. For the sake of her family, Anna does ask for forgiveness but she is not backing down. She tells Catherine: "Heís mine and I wonít give him up." They love each other. Catherine grabs and shakes Anna saying she will sent her to Siberia. She calls Anna a stupid little idiotic squirrel and a pitiful little mouse. She calls in the guards and tells them that Anna is not to leave this room.
Catherine goes to see Alexei. He says she looks pale. She says that she wants his advise and his decision will be her decision. Catherine says she been insulted. She pretends to faint and he sits her on a couch. Alexei tells her the offender should be punished. No, first tortured and then executed. Catherine tells him she has abolished the torture chamber. She takes him to the room where Anna awaits. Alexei is truly shocked to find out that the offender is none other than his fiancť. He tries to mediate between the two women to get each one to say they went too far. But Anna repeats her charges. Alexei becomes so desperate with worry that he takes her out of the room to get her to calm down. Catherine comes out to say that she will just send Anna back home where she canít hurt Her Majesty anymore. The Empress returns to her room.
Now Anna lets Alexei have it. She tells him off and says she doesnít even want to exist as far as Alexei is concerned. She says goodbye Col. Chernoff, or, by now, should she say General Chernoff? Catherine gets him to come to her by giving a big sigh. Alexei runs into the room and finds Catherine on the floor.
The Chancellor wants to resign, but Catherine doesnít want him to. Catherine asks her Chancellor why does he begrudge her a little happiness? Because, he says, he wonít be able to undo the things that Gen. Chernoff will do. He will be getting Russia in war after war. And heís overly enthusiastic about writing bad edicts to change the government. Catherine tells him to give her another vodka.
Ronsky is still flattering Alexei in order to manipulate him. But one of the officers doesnít want to go along with the scheming. Ronsky takes him aside and tells him he better start cooperating or else. Even if he has heard Alexeiís jokes before, he must laugh as if they were brand new.
Alexei is quite foolish. He says that he is arranging it so that everyone in Russia will be quite happy. Count Variatinsky arrives and everyone greets him. He is introduced to the new commander of the palace guard. Alexei has only heard the positive fibs that Catherine has told him about Variatinsky. So he is pleased to meet Variatinsky. It is soon evident to the old commander that Alexei doesnít know whatís going on. He takes Alexei into the other room to talk with him.
The officers talk about what they will do when they are in power. A big crash is heard from the other room. Alexei comes out looking very angry at his fellow officers. He is so mad that he overturns a table in the room. He immediately goes to see Catherine. Alexei tells Catherine that Variatinsky said terrible things about her. He suggests that they arrest that whole group of officers. Catherine says she will handle this her own way. She doesnít want a scandal. But Alexei disagrees with her. He tells her that Variatinsky wonít say anything bad about her again because he hit him so hard he crashed the glass of a large cabinet. Now Catherine gets mad saying that he has created a scandal and everyone will be talking about them and Variatinsky. Why did he do it? Alexei apologizes. She calls him an idiot. He gets angry and she has to calm him down. She suggests they forget the whole thing.
Alexei is upset. He says his whole world is collapsing. He idolized Catherine, but now he guesses he was a fool all along. He says she tricked him. Alexei says itís too much to take for any man and starts to leave. Catherine stops him saying she did not give him permission to leave. Now she wants him to come back tomorrow with very humble words and make her believe he is contrite and she may forgive him.
Ronsky and his co-conspirators tells Alexei that they want him to order everyone out of the palace while the Empress sleeps and wait for their arrival. Tomorrow the generals will bring in their troops and Russia will be theirs. They want his answer. After a pause, and an overturning of the table, he says he is with them. They rush to him to embrace him.
Alexei leaves the room. The Chancellor comes in from another room. He wants to be on the winning side and also wants to know who among the officers will be the new Czar.
Catherine hears someone walking around and it keeps her awake. She goes out to investigate. Itís Alexei. He is mad at her and she gets angry at him and tells him off. She calls for the guards, but they are all gone. Alexei tells her that everyone is gone. And the officers are going to teach her a lesson. They will soon be here. Catherine realizes it is a coup and tells Alexei that he doesnít want her to be executed. He says she wonít be; they gave him their word. Catherine tells him the generals never keep their word.
As the troops arrive Catherine begs Alexei to save her. But itís Catherineís troops. The Chancellor enters with the prisoner Ronsky. He greets Catherine and puts Gen. Chernoff under arrest.
Alexei finds himself in a prison cell. The Chancellor has made Ronsky his personal servant. He tells Ronsky that he wants to save Alexei for Annaís sake.
Anna comes out of Catherineís room crying. She tells the Chancellor that the Empress banished her all the way to the Crimean Peninsula. The commander of the east gate brings Alexei to Catherine. They run into Anna and she and Alexei hug. She tells Alexei that she tried to save him, but when she faced Catherine she forgot everything the Chancellor told her to say. And she even threw something at Catherine.
Alexei is brought in to Catherine. The sentence of the court martial is that Alexei is guilty of treason and should be executed at the pleasure of Her Majesty. Alexei says he is responsible for the uprising and he should be executed. She tells him to stop being so heroic. Catherine tells him to take one hour to think the matter over and she hopes he will find some way to make it possible for her not to sign his death warrant. Alone, she cries.
The Chancellor comes in. He has a plan of his own. He has the French ambassador with him and he tells Catherine that when the ambassador saw her in her carriage he raved about Her Majesty. The French ambassador is brought in. After all the formalities are done with, Catherine asks him what was his impression of her? He goes into a glowing account of her beauty. Catherine is happy again and she tears up Alexeiís death warrant. The Chancellor uses her good mood to ask about Anna. Catherine becomes irritated and tells him to make the decision, she canít do everything. Catherine launches into her speech about being the loneliest creature in her empire. Satisfied that Catherine is back in her romantic groove, the Chancellor sneaks out of the room.
I thought this was going to be a serious historical film. Nope. But it is a great comedy and love story. And since it is so funny, I decided to leave it in. For history, however, it is really not to be recommended. After all, it's a comedy and it just uses the name of Catherine the Great and her court. Tallulah Bankhead is simply great as Catherine. Charles Coburn as Chancellor Nicolai Iiyitch was particularly funny. Anne Baxter and William Eythe were also very good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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