Thursday, March 1, 2012

Great Moments in Movie Making: Rasputin


Rasputin and the Empress is a 1932 MGM pic that tells a Hollywood version of  mad monk Grigori Rasputin (Lionel Barrymore), Czarina Alexandra (Ethel Barrymore) and Prince Yusupov (John Barrymore).  It is the only film in which the Barrymore siblings appeared together.  Also in the movie is Diana Wynard as Princess Natasha.

The real Rasputin:
In real life, Prince Yusupov was the leader of the nobles who killed Rasputin in 1916.  After being poisoned by cyanide laced wine and cakes, he was shot in the back to make sure.  Yusupov left the building but returned to get his coat.  Whilst there he leaned over the body to make sure that Rasputin was dead.  In a truly epic Hollywood scene, the real Rasputin opened his eyes and lunged at Yusupov.  The other conspirators ran in and shot him three more times in the back.  Surprisingly, Rasputin sought to get up and attack the conspirators, who then clubbed him.  Some reports say that his penis was severed.  He was bound and wrapped in carpet, then thrown into the icy Neva River.  Although he managed to escape his bonds and the carpet, he drowned in the river.  He makes Chuck Norris look like an old age pensioner. 

Lawsuit #1:
Princess Natasha was based on Princess Irina Yusupov, the wife of Prince Yusupov.  Following the release of the film, Princess Yusupov sued MGM in 1933 for libel and invasion of privacy.  The film implies that she was Rasputin’s mistress and that she was raped by Rasputin, a relationship and assault which had not happened in real life. Princess Yusupov was awarded $127,000 in an English court and settled out of court with MGM in the US, reportedly for $1,000,000.  As a result the offending scene was cut, making the movie confusing for filmgoers in that in the first half she is a supporter of Rasputin and in the second half is deathly afraid of him, with no explanation.  As a further result the disclaimer "This motion picture is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental" has been inserted in the credits of virtually every film released since. 

Lawsuit #2:
Concerned during the making of the film that the real Prince Yusupov might take objection at how he was depicted in the film and sue, his character was given a fabricated name, Prince Chegodieff.  Yusupov sued MGM for not including him, for neglecting to give him credit for his role in the murder.  He too was awarded a sizable amount. 

Lawsuit #3:
Not long after Prince Yusupov’s suit was concluded, MGM was sued again.  It turned out that there really was a Prince Chegodieff who sued for the use of his name and the depiction of him.  He also was awarded a sizable amount.

 The Barrymores in the film

The real Rasputin

The real Prince Yusupov and Princess Irina Yusupov, 1913

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