Rasputin: The demon of Russia

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German title Rasputin - The demon of Russia
Original title Rasputin and the Empress
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1932
length 132 (122) minutes
Director Richard Boleslawski
script Charles MacArthur
production Bernard Hyman for MGM
camera William H. Daniels
cut Tom hero

Rasputin - The Demon of Russia (OT: Rasputin and the Empress ) is an American melodrama about the rise and fall of Rasputin with the three siblings John Barrymore , Ethel Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore directed by Richard Boleslawski . After the premiere, the MGM film company was successfully sued by Princess Irina Alexandrovna Romanova for damage to its reputation and had to pay substantial damages.


The film begins in 1913 with the glamorous celebration organized by Tsar Alexander and Tsarina Alexandra in honor of the first accession to the throne by the Romanov dynasty 300 years ago. As the rulers bask in the glory of the past, social unrest in the country begins to grow. Prince Paul Chegodieff got into a conflict of conscience some time later when the uncle of his fiancée Princess Natascha, Grand Duke Sergei, was murdered by anarchists. Prince Paul strictly refuses to have all suspects executed without prior investigation, as his future father-in-law, Grand Duke Igor, demands. The matter takes on ominous proportions as thousands protest outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The frightened Tsar then lets the heir to the throne, little Alexei Nikolayevich , also called Aloysha, step onto the balcony to calm the masses. However, the pressure on the Tsar continues to grow, so that he decides to set up a Duma , which he would like to design as a kind of parliament based on the English model.

In the meantime, Princess Natascha has fallen under the spell of the charismatic monk and miracle healer Rasputin. Prince Paul despises Rasputin, but is powerless against his growing influence in the best of society. When the heir to the throne, who suffers from hemophilia , is in mortal danger because a bleeding can no longer be stopped, the tsarina lets her confidante, Princess Natascha, convince her to call for Rasputin, who is said to have magical powers, as a last resort. The monk immediately casts a spell over the completely desperate tsarina. She leaves Rasputin alone with the child. He hypnotizes the boy and miraculously stops the bleeding. Within a very short time, Rasputin rose to become the unofficial advisor and confidante of the entire royal family. He never misses an opportunity to use his power and get everyone involved into a kind of emotional dependency. At the same time, the monk begins to ask the chief of the secret state police to hand over confidential documents about the members of the high nobility. Rasputin starts extorting extortion to get money, sex and influence. Soon he becomes the most hated man in Russia.

The year 1914 has now begun and Rasputin's influence continues to grow. Prince Paul is completely powerless against the bondage in which his wife is now. Finally, he discovers that Rasputin has even made the heir to the throne a willing slave. There is a quarrel between the two men and when the tsarina enters, she has Prince Paul expelled. Paul begins working on a plot to assassinate Rasputin. However, Natascha reveals the appointments to the monk. When Paul tried to shoot Rasputin a short time later, Rasputin survived the assassination attempt because he was wearing a bulletproof vest under his cassock.

War with Germany breaks out in August 1914. At first the tsar is unwilling to go into battle against his German cousin, but Rasputin convinces the weak-willed ruler to take up the fight on the side of the allies. Prince Paul, who has always stood up for peace, nevertheless faithfully fulfills his duty as an officer and goes to the front. Rasputin, who shows more and more traits of madness, tries one night to make the daughter of the tsar, Princess Maria, sexually docile. The frightened girl flees and confides in Natascha. She turns to Rasputin with disgust at the crime. He tries to use hypnosis to force her into addiction again and then rapes her. Tsarina Alexandra surprises both of them and finally realizes the shamefulness of Rasputin's actions. Meanwhile, Natascha writes an urgent telegram to Paul and asks him to murder Rasputin in order to avert greater harm from the tsarist family. During an orgy held by Rasputin and attended by many members of the high nobility, he eats huge amounts of poisoned cake without any effect. Paul steps up and forces Rasputin to accompany him to the basement of the building. There the two men fight to the death. In the end, Paul chokes the monk into unconsciousness and throws him into the river, where Rasputin eventually drowns. The heir to the throne awakens at the same moment from the hypnosis he was under. For reasons of state, the Tsar feels compelled to expel Prince Paul and Natascha to England, even if he personally feels great gratitude for the deed. A short time later, the October Revolution breaks out and the film ends with the execution of the entire royal family.


Irving Thalberg had been playing with the idea for a film about the fate of Rasputin for a good two years . After a lot of preparation, the strip finally went into production in mid-1932. Thalberg saw in it the unique opportunity to get all three members of the famous actor dynasty Barrymore, John, Lionel and their sister Ethel together in dramatic roles in front of the camera. All three had worked together in 1917 in the National Red Cross Pageant , a call for help for the National Red Cross. When John Barrymore moved away from Warner Brothers , he and Lionel Barrymore had been under contract with MGM since the end of 1931. They had already made two films together: Arsene Lupine, the king of thieves and people in the hotel . The commitment of the siblings was associated with not inconsiderable costs. While John received a fee of $ 150,000 for the participation based on his current contract, Lionel Barrymore was entitled to a weekly fee of $ 4,000. Ethel negotiated payments totaling $ 125,000 for her first appearance in a sound film . The actress always openly admitted that she only accepted the role because she lost almost all of her fortune during the Great Depression. Filming took an unusually long time at seventeen weeks. One of the reasons was the change in the director's chair. Initially Charles Brabin was in charge, but Thalberg was dissatisfied with the results and after five weeks turned the direction over to Richard Boleslawski . The constant problems between Brabin and Ethel Barrymore also contributed to the change. As soon as Brabin suggested that she limit her strong gestures somewhat, the doyenne of the American theater replied:

“Everything stays that way. I still knew the empress personally. "

This went hand in hand with extensive changes in the script, on which Lenore Coffee, C. Gardner Sullivan, Mercedes de Acosta and John Meehan worked, before Charles Mac Arthur, the husband of Helen Hayes , made a complete revision. The actors had to live with constant changes in the script and often only got the finished dialogue in the morning. In the end, Mac Arthur was the only author to be named in the credit. Overall, the film takes a lot of liberties in describing the rise and fall of Rasputin. The three Barrymores had their constant arguments and friction, but overall they worked together with great professionalism.

Actions for damages

The film premiered on December 23, 1932 in New York and in the following year led to a claim for damages by Princess Irina Alexandrovna Romanova , wife of Prince Felix Yusupov , who believed herself to be misrepresented in the character of Princess Natasha. The princess stated, contrary to what was suggested in the film, that she had never been raped by Rasputin and initially sued the studio in London. In March 1934 she was finally awarded the equivalent of 127,373 US dollars by the English judges as compensation for reputational violations in British law.

The studio reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiff in New York in August 1934 for a further US $ 250,000 in compensation. This was one of the highest sums of damages for defamation in the USA at the time. In the end, MGM had to spend almost $ 1,000,000 to settle all follow-up lawsuits initiated by other nobles of the time.

The Yusupova trial led MGM to cut the original version by a good 10 minutes. In the version available today, the rape does not occur, so that the change in mood with Princess Natascha is abrupt and incomprehensible.

In 1963 the princess repeated her arguments, this time together with her husband, who had served as a model for Prince Paul in the film, this time against the television company CBS . They asked for $ 1,500,000 in damages for the broadcast of a British film called Rasputin - The Mad Monk, starring Christopher Lee as Rasputin. The outcome of the trial was never made public.


The New York Times was impressed by the work and actors:

“Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore are the main characters in the rousing and exciting melodrama 'Rasputin - The Demon of Russia' […]. Lionel Barrymore has the most important role, but John as Prince Chegodieff and Miss Barrymore as Tsarina are also good portrayals in their roles. [..] Lionel Barrymore really leaves no stone unturned in his endeavors to play the repulsive monk without ever exaggerating. "


At the Academy Awards in 1934 , the film received a nomination in the category

Web links


  1. Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore serve as the principal players in an engrossing and exciting pictorial melodrama titled "Rasputin and the Empress. […] Although Lionel Barrymore has the most important role, both John as Prince Chegodieff and Miss Barrymore as the Czarina give equally fine performances in their respective roles. [..] Lionel Barrymore leaves no stone unturned to give a vivid idea of ​​the repellent monk. Yet he never overacts.