Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Scarlet Empress Costume Designs

I found some costume designs by Travis Banton for Marlene Dietrich's Catherine the Great in The Scarlet Empress. I watched the film again a few weeks ago but unfortunately my copy is not good enough to take screencaps from. It's a wonderful film - historically a bit suspect, but it's beautifully shot by Josef von Sternberg and it has some of the greatest props and sets I've ever seen. There are looming grotesque figures all over the place. It's enough to put you off your dinner.

The film itself reminds me of the Garbo vehicle, Queen Christina, which came out in 1933, a year before The Scarlet Empress was made. So (I'm speculating here) perhaps The Scarlet Empress was a further  attempt by Paramount's to make Dietrich their own version of MGM's Garbo?

Speaking of the costumes, one in particular is also very similar to Adrian's designs for Queen Christina. I'll put photos of each for you to compare. I just find it quite interesting.

The Scarlet Empress (1934) Costume Designs for Marlene Dietrich

Queen Christina, 1933

Adrian's Design for Greta Garbo in Queen Christina, 1933.

The Scarlet Empress (1934) Costume Designs for Marlene Dietrich

Finally this costume for Marlene Dietrich is rather iconic. Dietrich mentions it in her biography:
The younger generation raves about The Scarlet Empress. Young people write to me, and talk about the costumes - particularly about my boots which, moreover, were white! – and other impressive details of the work they seem to understand thoroughly ... much more than the public of that time. 
- Excerpt from Marlene Dietrich: My Life.© 1987 by Marlene Dietrich. (via

Now, I wouldn't compare it to Adrian's design for Queen Christina. The only similarity between these two designs is that they are both military-esque affairs with trousers and boots.

Queen Christina, 1933

I very much recommend this blog post by Innergenre for screencaptures, and Criterion Collection for an excellent review of the film.


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