The Scarlet Empress – Marlene Dietrich as art incarnate

A tour de force of production design by Hans Dreier. Pictured here is an unidentified artisan with a grouping of heavily featured set pieces – the ominous sculptures of “The Scarlet Empress”.

The writer, director, producer, Josef von Sternberg had this to say about filmmaking:

Shadow is mystery and light is clarity. Shadow conceals–light reveals. To know what to reveal and what to conceal and in what degrees to do this is all there is to art.

Note the fellows to the left and right of Marlene Deitrich.

Subscribe to Podcast


  1. August 13, 2012

    These pictures are pretty amazing – the artisan looks so comfortable and happy around his faces.
    Nominated you for a couple of awards, if you’d like to accept them.
    Here’s the link

  2. August 13, 2012

    Sternberg’s quote about filmmaking is exquisite! Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. August 13, 2012

    I can’t see anything to left or right. The photo is beautiful of Miss Deitrich.

    • August 13, 2012

      Jill, see this movie! You would love it. The design is like another character in the story…

  4. August 13, 2012

    It’s now on the list!

  5. August 14, 2012

    That film is just so……dreamy and sureal and wonderful. And Marlene in the begining of the film so, soft and delicate. I love it. Thanks darling for taking me back to the first time I saw it at the Castro Theater.

    • August 14, 2012

      You sir, are spellbinding. One of these days I hope you write a book.

      • August 14, 2012

        I am puce with blushing! How sweet you are.

  6. Heather in Arles
    November 19, 2013

    Oh my. Well. THAT is spectacular, quote and all. Will add this to my list too. Many merci’s. And seeing Lanier reminds me to tell you that I have officially invited myself along for your day at Barneys… 😉

    • November 19, 2013

      Ohhhh, the perfume counter at Barneys… 🙂 .

  7. November 20, 2013

    Wow, now that is stunning set design. Classic example of they don’t make em like they used to.

  8. Nicholas
    November 16, 2018

    A film where the sets, props and scenery are pure ART. The actors are like accessories, compared to the beauty which surrounds them. Even the costumes with their exaggerated grandeur, make the actors in them seem small, and less significant. Marlene D. with her incomparable beauty HAD to be cast in the part of Catherine, because a lesser actress would have been LOST, in this world of fantasy and imagination gone wild. Sam Jaffe, was superb as Tsar Peter III, his facial expressions and demeanor conveyed a truly convincing air of – insanity. Such a pity these props and sets were probably lost forever, after the film was made. Their value today, would be hard to estimate.

    • November 17, 2018

      I’m so glad you said that Nicholas. While I think you’re right about the props and sets (I can inquire with a couple of people who might know) the influence of the design goes on. I know it can be seen in the entire look of “Elizabeth” (1998) because the production designer cited it as inspiration, the looming statues, the watchful eyes woven into the drapery… As to the performances in “The Scarlet Empress” it’s hard to imagine a modern cast with such depth. Thank you for commenting!

Comments are closed.