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Adapted from the novel 'La Tragedie Imperiale' by Alfred Neumann and directed by Marcel L'Herbier this atmospheric film deals with the phenomenal influence exerted by Grigori Rasputin over the Romanov court before his assassination in 1916.
In the title role Harry Baur, an actor indisputably touched by genius, is superlative. His performance has immense charisma and projects wonderfully the angelic/diabolic nature of the character.
The most powerful scenes are those where he confronts the members of the Holy Synod and where he is challenged in the restaurant by Prokoff played by Jacques Baumer. Liberties have been taken of course.
MGM discovered in 1932 how litigious was Prince Alexei Youssoupoff so here he has become Count Igor Kouroff. He is played by Pierre-Richard Willm whose film performances were variable. He is at his best here in the final scenes when he seems to have doubts about the killing of Rasputin and is faced with a task he does not relish. Again this might have been a sop to Youssoupoff.
Doubts have been cast over Youssoupoff's account of the murder in any case and as with the 'suicide' at Mayerling we will probably never know the truth. Was he poisoned before being shot and was he dumped in the river?
The senior autopsy surgeon found neither traces of poison in the stomach nor water in the lungs.
The assassination scene in this film is brilliantly handled although the shot to the forehead is omitted.
All of the performances are uniformly good and it is interesting to see in his first film a splendid child actor, Jean Claudio, as the haemophiliac Dmitri. He also impressed in 'Les dispaurus de St. Agil' the same year and continued acting until his mid-fifties.
Credit must also be given to Guy de Gastyne and Eugene Lourie for their magnificent production/art design; Philippe Agostini and Michel Kelber for their cinematography and Darius Milhaud for his evocative score.
Many fine actors have played Rasputin not least Veidt, Brasseur and Depardieu but Bauer's portrayal is monumental.
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