Rasputin and the Empress (1932)




Director:    Richard Boleslavsky.

Starring:   John Barrymore (Prince Paul Chegodieff),  Ethel Barrymore (Czarina Alexandra),  Lionel Barrymore (Grigori Rasputin),  Ralph Morgan (Tsar Nicholas II),  Diana Wynyard (Princess Natasha), Tad Alexander (Tsarevitch Alexis "Aloysha"),  C. Henry Gordon (Grand Duke Igor) , Edward Arnold (Dr. A. Remezov), Jean Parker (Princess Maria).


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Moscow 1913.  The Reigning house of Romanoff celebrates the 300th year of its rule." 

It's a huge ceremony at a huge church.  The Tsar and Tsarina come into the church.  The Tsarevich comes in latter.  Prince Paul Chegodieff comes into the church to tell Uncle Igor that his brother has had an accident and is dead.  Assassinated.  Uncle Igor (son of the assassinated man) tells the Prince to execute all the accused.  Paul says he can't do that, at least not without a trial.  Princess Natasha, a lady-in-waiting to the empress, asks the two men if it's true what she has heard about her father?  Yes.

Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary is announced to the royal family.  France sends an envoy to express France's sympathies for the loss of the Tsarina's brother by assassination.  This is the first the Tsarina has heard of this.  The French envoy apologizes for having to be the one who brought her the news. 

Chegodieff stops the executions.  He tells Igor that this is not your regiment.  No one commands the Chevalier guard but the Empress herself.  Igor says the man is under arrest.  Chegodieff says that only the Tsar and Tsarina can give such an order.  Col. Prince Chegodieff  goes with Igor to see the Tsar.  Igor says that Chegodieff has been insolent to him.  Chegodieff tells the Tsar that twelve or fifteen people (four women) have been executed.  The Tsar and Tsarina say this will set back their image for years in the eyes of the other European countries.

The people outside demand to see the Tsarevich.  The Tsarina does not wants to have her son go out there to be seen by the huge crowd but she is forced to let the people see him.  A big roar goes up when they see the Tsarevich. 

Three months later.  The Kremlin Palace Garden.  Prince Paul Chegodieff goes to see the Tsar, who tells him he wants to found a Duma (parliament) and share some of the power with others.  The photographers come in to take some photos.  Paul takes Natasha inside to talk to her.  He asks her to marry him now.  She is going to marry Paul, but not now.  Paul complains that she has been too influenced by her religion.  Natasha sings the praises of Father Rasputin who has a certain greatness of soul.  Paul says it seems he has lost her to something he can't see.  Natasha insists she is still his. 

The kids are teasing around and Aloysha falls.  He starts bleeding.  The doctor has to see Aloysha.  Paul learns that Aloysha has hemophilia, which is transferred from mother to son only.  When he bleeds he keeps bleeding.  It is hard for the blood to clot normally.  His parents are extremely concerned for his health. 

Natasha invites the waiting Rasputin in to see her mother.  She tells the Tsarina that the father can heal Aloysha.  Rasputin says:  "Say after me:  "My son will live."  The doctor protests and Rasputin tells the Tsarina:  "Send him away."  The doctor leaves.  Rasputin goes in to be alone with Aloysha.  He immediately starts telling the boy that he is going to get well.  Rasputin says the pain is leaving his body and will travel out the window (he opens the drapes).   Then he says that he's going to sleep. 

Europe's best doctor comes in to see Aloysha and the Tsarina tells him that Father Rasputin has performed a great miracle.  The boy is better.  Rasputin is very nasty to the doctor.  The boy is so attached to Rasputin that he deals with others only through the father.  Rasputin shows the doctor how Aloysha can stand up and come to him.  Rasputin refuses to let the doctor be alone with the patient.  Having the doctor check him will lead to the loss of God's power on the boy say the healer.  He says the Tsarina must chose between the doctor and God.  The Tsarina says she has already chosen God and Rasputin. 

Rasputin is the hero of the day.  Everyone wants to know what the royal family are like?  The Chief of the Secret Police comes and sees that Rasputin still has every one of the gold trinkets he received from the Tsar and Tsarina.  Rasputin goes out to speak to the chief.  The chief tells Rasputin that they might be able to help each other.  He says his department has been subject to a lot of criticism ever since the assassination of the Grand Duke Sergey.  He wants Rasputin to put a good word in for him with the chief.  After all, he says, Rasputin is the most important person in all of Russia right now.  Rasputin asks what's in it for him?  The chief gives Rasputin the police file on him.  Rasputin wants to see the files of other important people.  He says he is going to be even more important than the chief imagines. 

With the information from the files, Rasputin starts to blackmail various officials.  He tells one fellow that he will take orders from him, Rasputin.  Rasputin also blackmails women for sexual favors.  Moreover, he blackmails the Chief of the Secret Police.  He uses him to frame other officials, by having the chief put secret information into the files of the targeted people.  Rasputin then goes to the Tsar and tells him about his "premonitions" regarding the targeted person.

St. Petersburg.  June 1914.  Prince Chegodieff's Palace.  The Prince tells Natasha that he invited Father Rasputin.  The man is just late.  He adds that he doesn't like or trust Rasputin.  The man always goes "as far as he dares" with everyone, including the Empress.  The man wants something.  He adds that he hates Natasha's faith in Rasputin.  It has come between them.   Rasputin is announced.  Natasha asks Paul to please be nice to him.  Of course. 

Rasputin insults some of the guests.  He's much too outspoken.  And he talks like he's in charge of everything and everybody.  The Prince takes him to another room to give him some helpful advice.  He tells Rasputin he would be wise not to meddle into matters that are none of his business, such as the Duma.  Rasputin says someday he's going to run Russia and he doesn't want a lot of peasants getting in his way.  He adds:  "Get used to it, Prince."  He calls the Prince "a pampered fool".  The Prince threatens Rasputin by saying that some men so ambitious like Rasputin are often unlucky.  Rasputin just says he's not afraid of being murdered.

Czarskoye Selo.  The Imperial Summer Palace.  18 miles from St. Petersburg.  The German tutor of the Tsarevitch is concerned that the young boy is forgetting too much of his studies.  Rasputin tells the man to leave the Tsarevich alone.  He tells the man:  "Get out, you Krauthead."  Rasputin then makes the young boy study nature through a microscope.  The Tsarevich is afraid of spiders and doesn't want to watch an aunt kill a fly, but Rasputin forces him to watch them.  The ant overpowers the fly and tears it up.  The boy starts crying.  Rasputin says:  "That's the kind of power we can have, you and I, if you do as I tell you."

Paul comes in to check on the boy.  The boy is afraid to look Paul in the eyes and then he bites Paul's hand.  Paul turns to Rasputin: "You filthy swine. . . . What have you done to him?"  The Tsarina comes in and stops Paul.  Then Aloysha says that Paul hurt him and said he would kill his father.  The mother says to Paul:  "Please, leave us."  Paul leaves.

Natasha comes to see Rasputin.  She gets right in.  Natasha is surrounded at the dinner table by nothing but women.  Natasha is a bit concerned by the sight of the revelry.  Natasha tells him that his life may be in danger.  She thinks Paul may do something to him.  Rasputin says he is not worried.  The Prince comes to talk with Rasputin.  When they are alone, Paul shoots Rasputin three times.  Rasputin is not hurt at all, because he secretly wears a metal place over his chest area.  Rasputin says there's going to be a war.  He goes down to see Natasha and turns off the light.   

At the palace Rasputin watches the Tsarevich.  He seems to give Aloysha a signal to fall down as if taken ill, but when Aloysha tries, three guards are there to prop him up.  

The Tsar gets a letter from the Kaiser.  "Unless Russia demobilizes at once, you will have to bear the horrible responsibility for the disaster that threatens the whole civilized world."  Signed Wilhelm.  World War I looms.  The Tsar meets with his counselors ad military men.  He gets varying advice from the meeting.  He steps out to think about what he should do.  Rasputin starts pressuring the Tsar toward war.  He tells him to be firm with the Kaiser. 

Paul comes in saying that they have received another demand from Germany.  And the man behind much of this is none other than Rasputin.  The father wants to go to war and he has corrupted most of the people who now give the Tsar advice.  The Tsar gets mad at Paul for coming to him with what he says are crazy accusations.  Paul says he is just trying to protect his country from its enemies.  He then tells the Tsar that he tried to kill Rasputin last night.  The Tsar is shocked, but Rasputin confirms it. 

The Tsar now questions Paul's sanity.  He asks for his resignation.  Paul quietly leaves, while Rasputin stays.  And so the Tsar goes to war against Germany to protect Holy Russia. 

The Tsar reviews his armies headed for the front to fight.  Paul in civilian clothes watches as the men go to war. 

The Tsar is going close to the front to see the situation there.  He tells his wife that he has no stomach for things like this.  She asks him to write to her.  He says he will write everyday.  It's hard for them to leave each other. 

Rasputin asks the princesses why they seem afraid of him these days.  He sends the others away and talks to Princess Maria. Rasputin gives her a necklace with a locket on it.  ]He is getting a little too chummy with the girl.  Natasha comes in and tells Maria to go to bed.  Rasputin later tries to go to Maria's room, but is stopped again by Natasha.  She finds Rasputin in an outer room and tells him to get out.  She is going to tell the Tsarina about him.  He forcefully holds her back and then throws her on the coach and tries to choke her.  He tries a form of hypnotism to make her forget what happened.   

Natasha tells her mother that she caught Rasputin trying to enter Maria's room.  She is going to get her guard, but Rasputin tells her that his men are now in charge of all her troops and he is now the Tsar of all the Russias.  The Tsarina tells Rasputin to get out and he goes. 

Paul comes to see Natasha at the hospital.  She works there.  He says he was so happy when he got the message for him to come and see her.  But Natasha says it was the Empress that sent him the message, not her.  He tries to get her to tell him what's the matter that keeps them apart.  She only says that Paul tried to tell her about Rasputin, but she wouldn't listen then.  Natasha tells him to go to the Empress for she needs him.  So Paul goes to see the Empress, who is also dressed in a nurse's outfit.  She tells Paul that she has injured him, but she has injured Russia more.  Paul tells the Empress that he knows what to do.  He leaves her.

Rasputin is enjoying a bawdy party.  Paul and the doctor are having Rasputin eat some poisoned small cakes.  He eats some of them, but the poison shows no obvious effect on the "holy man".  Rasputin seems to think he knows who the server is.  He's convinced that the Prince is out to kill him.  His security men bring the doctor and Prince Paul to Rasputin.  He now wants these men killed with a pistol.  Someone whispers something to Rasputin and the crazed man says it's a good idea.  He takes the Prince down to the cellar.  He grazes the Prince 's left arm with a bullet.  As Rasputin says what he's going to do to the Prince, the Prince starts guffawing at Rasputin, telling him that he is full of poison.  Rasputin shoots again but misses Paul and Paul lunges at Rasputin. The two men fight.  Rasputin tries to escape, but Paul keeps stopping him.  He then hits Rasputin with an iron log turner from the fireplace.  Rasputin still won't die, so Paul hits him over and over again with the iron tool.  And still the man won't die.  So he takes Rasputin to the river and pushes him under the water. 

Paul is brought in by the Adjutant General to see the Tsar, who tells Paul that nothing can justify murder.  Paul will be exiled for what he did.  As soon as the Adjutant General is gone, the royal family embrace Paul for what he did.  The Tsar thanks him for what he did for them.  He says he will slowly remove Rasputin's men in his government.  Paul says he is going to England where he will have a military job.  They ask Paul to take Natasha with him and Paul agrees.  Before the royal family leave, Paul asks that the Tsar send his family abroad until things settle down in Russia. 

The Russian Revolution takes place.  The communists take the royal family away.  They walk them through the mass of soldiers and sailors in the palace.  Then they take them east by train.  The royal family is brought down to a cellar.  There they are shot dead. 


A good movie, but it is not as close to the truth as many of the other Rasputin movies.  The general outline is alright, but a lot of the details are wrong.  For instance, there just wasn't one guy, some Paul Chegodieff, who wanted Rasputin killed.  There were others involved in the conspiracy to kill the evil monk.  The royal family was moved around before finally being executed.  Lionel Barrymore (as Grigori Rasputin) was good.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




Historical Background:

1869  --  Gregory Efimovich Rasputin born to peasants in Prokovskoe, Siberia. As a boy he was known for drunkenness, stealing and womanizing.

He came under the influence of the followers of the Skopsty, who believed that the only way to reach God was through sinful actions. This faith of course appealed to a debauched man and he become a traveling monk.  

turn of the century --  in Kazan he impresses the local clergy.

1902  -- he heads to St. Petersburg where he comes to the notice of many of the country's leading religious leaders.

1894  -- death of  Tsar Alexander III and ascendancy of the 26 year old Tsar Nicholas II. He marries German Princess Alix of Hesse.

They had a daughter within a year of their wedding, the future Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaievna. Three more daughters followed.

1897 -- daughter Tatiana Nicholaievna born.
1899  -- daughter Maria Nicholaievna born.
1901  --  daughter Anastasia Nicholaievna born.

Wanting to insure a male heir, Alexandra comes under the influence of mystics and faith healers.  
1904 --  son Alexis born.  He has hemophilia, an affliction that affected many of the inter-breeding royal families of the era.  

1905  --  Alexis has another serious bleeding episode.

Rasputin had a small following in royal circles in St. Petersburg, among them the Grand Duchess Militza and Anastasia and Anna Vyrubova, a close companion of Empress Alexandra. These women recommended Rasputin to Alexandra.

Rasputin managed to stop Alexis' bleedings and this brought him the gratitude and support of the parents.  The developing relationship caused great worry among royal society.  Rumors spread that Alexandra was having a sexual relationship with the mad monk. And Rasputin himself boasted of having sex with the Empress and her daughters.

Nicholas exiled Rasputin to the provinces, but another bleeding of his son brought Rasputin back to the palace. Subsequently, Alexandra almost grew completely dependent on the monk.

1914  -- outbreak of World War I.  Things went badly for Russia.  Fear spread that because Nicholas relied on Alexandra for advice and Alexandra relied on Rasputin, that it was actually the monk that was making the important decisions in the government.  They tried to convince the royal couple to get rid of Rasputin.

1915  -- Nicholas II's dismisses Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievich as the head of the Russian armies and assumes command itself.  He heads for the front lines leaving Alexandra in charge back home. Rasputin takes advantage of the situation to get his own men into the government. The Tsar's cousin, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich and Prince Felix Youssoupov plot to kill Rasputin.

1916 December 16  --  Rasputin killed in Youssoupov's Petrograd palace.  He was drugged, poisoned, beat and shot. He did not die, however, probably because the poisoning slowed down his whole system, including bleeding.  Rasputin finally died by drowning when his body, wrapped in a carpet, was thrown into the Moika Canal on the Neva River.

Nicholas and Alexandra vowed to punish the assassins. He sent the two men into exile.
Three months after the death of Rasputin, Nicholas loses his throne, then he and his family are arrested, and eventually assassinated.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)