Rembrandt (1936)

RembrandtRembrandt Poster
Directed by Alexander Korda
Written by Carl Zuckmayer, June Head, and Lajos Biró
London Film Productions

Repeat viewing


Rembrandt van Rijn: What is success? A soldier can reckon his success in victories, a merchant in money. But my world is insubstantial. I live in a beautiful, blinding, swirling mist.

This is a very good biography of the painter with a fine performance by Charles Laughton and beautiful costumes and art direction.

The story follows Rembrandt from about the time he lost his beloved wife Saska after his “The Night Watch” met with ridicule.  We see Rembrandt struggle with poverty and a nagging mistress (Gertrude Lawrence) while he continues to pursue a vision that few share.  He finds contentment toward the end of his life despite bankruptcy through the love and inspiration of former scullery maid Hendrickje (Elsa Lancaster).

Rembrandt 1

Charles Laughton is convincing as Rembrandt.  In the course of portraying the painter, he also has the opportunity to movingly read some selections from the Bible.  But the real star for me was the production design.  The settings, lighting, and costumes call to mind not only several Rembrandt masterpieces but works of other Dutch Masters such as Brueghel and Vermeer.  Recommended.

TV promo

The Rise of Catherine the Great

The Rise of Catherine the GreatCatherine DVD
Directed by Paul Czinner
UK, 1934
London Films Production
First viewing


Catherine: “I am a woman like your mother and your sisters. I know that it is a bad wife who leaves her husband because he has been cruel. But it is a good mother who will fight everyone to save her children. You are my children. I come to you as the mother of all Russia.”

Empress Elizabeth of Russia (Flora Robson) is determined that her indolent, debauched nephew Grand Duke Peter (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) should wed a German princess. He resists this idea until he meets the lady in question (Elisabeth Bergner), who has loved him dearly since childhood. Upon their marriage, she is renamed Catherine. Sadly, Peter descends slowly into madness but Catherine stands by her man until his public humiliations become too much to bear. It is not giving too much away to say she goes on to become Catherine the Great but in this version the death of Peter is strictly against her orders. All poor Catherine was ever looking for was a little love.

"Can anyone love someone like me?"

“Can anyone love someone like me?”

It is impossible to watch this film without comparing it to Josef von Sternberg’s weird but wonderful The Scarlet Empress released the same year. That is definitely the superior of the two films primarily because Bergner cannot hold a candle to Marlene Dietrich.

However, if taken alone, The Rise of Catherine the Great is not half bad. Flora Robson is excellent as the randy but principled Elizabeth and, while Fairbanks, Jr. struck me as too bland at the beginning of the film, he really grew on me. Bergner, the wife of director Czinner, was a famous Austrian actress and this was her first English speaking role. She is competent but unfortunately her sometimes wide-eyed coquettishness and petite stature make her look like she’s playing dress-up in those period costumes. Speaking of costumes, they and the sets are lavish and wonderful.


The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)

The Private Life of Don JuanCatherine DVD
Directed by Alexander Korda
UK, 1934
London Film Productions
First viewing



Lobby card featuring Merle Oberon and Douglas Fairbanks

Lobby card featuring Merle Oberon and Douglas Fairbanks

Don Juan: “All girls are different. All wives are alike.”

An aging Douglas Fairbanks plays an aging Don Juan in this pleasant comedy. Don Juan is tiring after 20 years in the saddle and when an imposter is killed in a duel happily attends his own funeral. The only problem is that when he wants to reclaim his identity, no one will believe him. Merle Oberon is top-billed as a fiery Spanish dancer although Benita Hume has the bigger part as a woman plotting to keep the Don as her own. I loved the Spanish flavored score.  Fairbanks looks pretty tired but carries the film with his humor.  He was a very good sport!  This was his last film.  He would die in 1939 at age 56.

Excerpts – scenes of Merle Oberon with Douglas Fairbanks