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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka 'Catherine the Great')

directed by Josef von Sternberg
USA 19
34

 

Filmmaker-svengali Josef von Sternberg escalates his obsession with screen legend Marlene Dietrich in this lavish depiction of sex and deceit in the 18th-century Russian court. A self-proclaimed “relentless excursion into style,” the pair’s sixth collaboration follows the exploits of Princess Sophia (Dietrich) as she evolves from trembling innocent to cunning sexual libertine Catherine the Great. With operatic melodrama, flamboyant visuals, and a cast of thousands, this ornate spectacle represents the apex of cinematic pageantry by Hollywood’s master of artifice.

***

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.

 

  Posters

Theatrical Release: September 9th, 1934 

Reviews                                                                                            More Reviews                                                                        DVD Reviews

 

Comparison:

Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC vs. Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray vs. Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL SECOND

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray THIRD

4) Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

Box Cover

Part of Criterion's Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood [Blu-ray] with Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil Is a Woman:

  

 

 

Part of Indicator's Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount, 1930-1935 (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]

with Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil Is a Woman:

Distribution Criterion Collection  Spine # 109 - Region 1- NTSC Universal Pictures R2 (FR)
Region 2,4,5 - PAL
Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray Indicator - Spine #130
Region 'B' -
Blu-ray
Distribution Universal (Europe) Home Video - Region 2,4,5- PAL

In Region 1 Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection (Morocco/ Blonde Venus/ The Devil Is a Woman/ Flame of New Orleans/ Golden Earrings) is available and REVIEWED HERE

            

Runtime 1:44:24  1:40:39  1:45:01.670 1:44:48.657
Video 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.91 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s
1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.74 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

1.37:1 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 39,306,675,296 bytes

Feature: 31,161,643,008 bytes

Video Bitrate: 35.44 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

1.37:1 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 42,528,900,522 bytes

Feature: 31,084,577,280 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.97 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:  Criterion

Bitrate:  Universal Europe

Bitrate: Criterion  Blu-ray

Bitrate: Indicator  Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital 1.0)  English (Dolby Digital 1.0)  LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Southbank audio:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

Subtitles English, None English, German, French, Dutch, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Czech, None English (SDH), None English (SDH), None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Original aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• The 20-minute BBC documentary The World of Josef von Sternberg
• Production stills and lobby cards
• 10 page liner notes with essay by Robin Wood

DVD Release Date: May 8th, 2001

Keep Case
Chapters: 19

Release Information:
Studio: Universal (Europe) Home Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• none

DVD Release Date: December 6th, 2005

Keep Case
Chapters: 18

 

Release Information:
Studio:
Criterion

 

1.37:1 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 39,306,675,296 bytes

Feature: 31,161,643,008 bytes

Video Bitrate: 35.44 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:

Marlene Dietrich in Denmark (28:27)


Blu-ray Release Date:
July 3rd, 2018
Custom Blu-ray Case

Chapters 19

Release Information:
Studio:
Indicator

 

1.37:1 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 42,528,900,522 bytes

Feature: 31,084,577,280 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.97 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:

• Audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns (2019)
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg (2019, 6:46): the son of Josef von Sternberg discusses The Scarlet Empress
• Josef von Sternberg: An Introduction (2009, 1:15:10): archival audio recording of von Sternberg’s biographer John Baxter exploring the director’s career in an event conducted at London’s BFI Southbank
• The Twilight of an Angel (2012, 54:03): Dominique Leeb’s acclaimed French television documentary on Marlene Dietrich’s final years
• Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
• UK premiere on
Blu-ray
• Limited edition exclusive 120-page book with a new essay by Pamela Hutchinson, archival interviews and articles, an overview of contemporary critical responses, film credits and more
UK premieres on Blu-ray
Limited Edition of 6,000 copies


Blu-ray Release Date: August 26th, 2019
Custom Blu-ray Case

Chapters 13

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: (August 2019) Indicator Region 'B' - Blu-ray: This is another Pre-Code film in Indicator's Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount, 1930-1935 (Limited Edition) Blu-ray that has Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil Is a Woman. We will compare all of them to the corresponding Criterion Blu-rays.

Most of the other transfers on this boxset contain a very similar 1080P image quality as compared to the Criterion - if not totally indiscernible from each other. "Morocco" is the exception, so far. The Scarlet Empress is advertised as another "4K restoration". Most could not distinguish any differences but I did see, what I thought was a blocky looking segment, but I could not duplicate it. This looks lush, rich with grain and just as beautiful in-motion as the Criterion.

At a glance, the audio track here seems also the exact same as the one from the Criterion
Blu-ray, in 24-bit linear PCM 1.0 mono. It suffers from its production limitations but is still clear and consistent. The film's music is a wonderful cornucopia of Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner sounding epic but predictably very flat in the uncompressed. This is a Region 'B' Blu-ray from Indicator and contains optional English subtitles.

Indicator dramatically advance on the Criterion and its lone extra. We get an audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns who talks about the adopted Hays Code (the film's warning - see above) but not enforced and how the film seems to have gotten away with plenty (see the 'torture montage' screen grab below) as do many
Pre-Code films. He admits that this is one of the film that ignited his passion for cinema. He talks of Eisenstein, von Sternberg's autobiography and so much more. Fascinating, as always, to listen to. We get another 7-minute introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg - the son of Josef von Sternberg who discusses The Scarlet Empress. Josef von Sternberg: An Introduction is from 2009 and runs 1 1/4 hours. It is an archival audio recording of von Sternberg’s biographer John Baxter (The Cinema of Josef von Sternberg) exploring the director’s career in an event conducted at London’s BFI Southbank. It runs to the film as a third audio option. The Twilight of an Angel is from 2012: Dominique Leeb’s acclaimed French television documentary on Marlene Dietrich’s final years. It runs shy of an hour and has archival footage of Marlene Dietrich, Éliane Ladouble, Françoise Michaud (narrator), Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva and others being fairly frank about the enigmatic star and the end of her life. There is an image gallery of promotional and publicity material This Blu-ray box set from Indicator also features a limited edition exclusive 120-page book with a new essay by Pamela Hutchinson, archival interviews and articles, an overview of contemporary critical responses, film credits and more.

Well, this disc certainly vaults the Indicator beyond the Criterion with the extensive extras and commentary. Indicator's
Blu-ray boxset is seeming more and more like a 'must-own'.

***

ADDITION: (June 2018) Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray: This is the fifth disc of Criterion's Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood Blu-ray that has Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil Is a Woman. We will finish reviewing all of them, shortly.

Criterion bring us The Scarlet Empress as the fifth Blu-ray of the set. The film is housed on a dual-layered disc, with the 1 3/4 hour feature having a max'ed out bitrate. The film is, probably, the most desirable of the von Sternberg/Dietrich collaborations - and thankfully it looks the absolute best so far. Contrast levels are sumptuous in 1080P and the grain is thick, rich and consistent. It is equally as gorgeous in-motion and Bert Glennon's cinematography (John Ford's Stagecoach and Drums Along the Mohawk) is frequently stunning. Detail advances significantly over the DVDs. Beautiful.

Audio is transferred in a linear PCM 1.0 mono track (24-bit). There are optional English subtitles on this Region 'A'
Blu-ray disc.

Criterion add one supplements on this disc. Marlene Dietrich in Denmark runs shy of 1/2 hour and in this interview from 1971, conducted for Swedish television but film in Copenhagen after a performance at Tivoli gardens, Marlene Dietrich looks back at her career, her work with director Josef von Sternberg, and her travels around the world.

The Scarlet Empress is the prize of the
Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood Blu-ray set from Criterion. The visual and audio upgrades from previous SD editions are significant and the heavy grain-rich appearance should please many fans. The, alone, makes the set strongly recommended!

Gary Tooze + Colin Zavitz

ADDITION- Universal (Europe) - Region 2,4,5 - PAL - June 06': It appears obvious that the Criterion either has boosted blacks or the print is much darker - I suspect a little of both. In many instances the darkness has obscured details from the image. The Criterion is also much dirtier - with excessive digital noise. The print used for both appears to be of a different source - with different damage marks. The Universal has far less scratches and blemishes but it still has some that are visible. The big problem with the Universal PAL transfer is that is is cropped - quite a lot on the left edge - but also some on the top and bottom.

Audio is much cleaner on the Universal PAL edition. Optional English subtitles appear acceptable on both - the PAL has many more options.

Extras go the way of the Criterion (as they usually do) as the Universal is bare bones.

Value leans towards the Universal as it is significantly cheaper. 

About the Universal - It has been rumored that the British Film Institute had a pristine negative of the Sternberg gem in its archives from which the transfer was struck. (thanks Jordan)

BOTTOM LINE: - this is an outstanding film - worthy of any collection. Image quality easily goes to the Universal - BUT it is also cropped. I suppose it a personal decision if you can live with the cropping over the dirtier, darker Criterion. Personally, I didn't see the framing as impinging upon the intentions of the film, but you may disagree - and you'd be right to do so. I am very happy I have the Universal as I found the image quality significant enough to easily warrant a purchase. It really is apples and oranges.  

****

This is the most digital noise /faux grain I have ever seen on any film/DVD. Even the most strident of grain-supporters (and I am one!) might find this excessive. There is also quite a lot of damage. Von Sternberg's legendary use of light and shadows remains quite accessible from the DVD image, but there will be many who find the image a deterrent to the viewing experience. Once I settled it, I was fine. It appears as though Criterion opted for the grain visual look as opposed to a more fractured piece-meal one. I'm okay with this - its obvious the print was in pretty poor shape and barring a full-scale restoration, this is the best that could be done. The excessive grain does dampen the sharpness though. Overall, I endorse this film/DVD. It has a vague appearance of attempting to look older than it is (like a Guy Maddin effect). Probably not as defined a representation of the film as you would want, but I was pleased enough to warrant it having a place on my shelf and subsequent re-visitations. Audio is weak but acceptable and the extra short featurette is a poignant touch to the package. Robin Wood wrote the articulate liner notes and we give this out of  .

Gary W. Tooze

  

 


DVD Menus

(Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL RIGHT)


 

Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray


 

Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray



CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample

 

1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL SECOND

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray THIRD

4) Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL SECOND

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray THIRD

4) Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

Screen Captures

 

1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL SECOND

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray THIRD

4) Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL SECOND

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray THIRD

4) Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL SECOND

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray THIRD

4) Indicator - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


 

1) Criterion - Region 0 - NTSC TOP

2) Universal Pictures (FR) Region 2,4,5 - PAL MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray Captures

Box Cover

Part of Criterion's Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood [Blu-ray] with Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil Is a Woman:

  

 

 

Part of Indicator's Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount, 1930-1935 (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]

with Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil Is a Woman:

Distribution Criterion Collection  Spine # 109 - Region 1- NTSC Universal Pictures R2 (FR)
Region 2,4,5 - PAL
Criterion - Spine #109 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray Indicator - Spine #130
Region 'B' -
Blu-ray
Distribution Universal (Europe) Home Video - Region 2,4,5- PAL

In Region 1 Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection (Morocco/ Blonde Venus/ The Devil Is a Woman/ Flame of New Orleans/ Golden Earrings) is available and REVIEWED HERE

            

 


 




 

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