Princess Tarakanova (1910)
Alternate Title: Knyazhna Tarakanova
This appears to have been another French production in Russia, made by Pathé, to judge by the images of roosters on the intertitles. Nevertheless, it is clearly intended primarily for Russian audiences as it tells a story from the time of Catherine the Great, that would have been familiar to the class of people expected to attend films there. Princess Tarakanova was a pretender to the Russian throne who is betrayed to Catherine by her lover, Count Orlov, then tricked into imprisonment. Unwilling to renounce her claim, she eventually died in a dungeon in Peter and Paul Fortress of tuberculosis. The movie recounts all of this, also inserting a tragic final visit by a repentant Count Orlov, and also includes an “alternate ending” showing her being drowned in her prison cell, as one legend claimed was her fate.
Over all, the production here is very stagey, with stationary cameras and scenes shot in single takes. The movie is based on a stage production, and most of the actors make no effort to adapt their acting style for the lack of sound – they just seem to mouth their lines and make the same kinds of motions they would on stage. The exception is V. Mikulina, who played the hapless princess. For most of the movie, we get the impression of a sort of haughty assurance that everyone will realize their mistake, and finally she hams it up gloriously, especially for her (first) death scene, where we get the impression that it was the untimely visit by Orlov that brought about the tubercular attack. Another issue with the movie is that it depends a great deal on written documents to replace the dialog. Every few minutes, Orlov is ending a letter, or Catherine is issuing a decree, so that the audience can be informed of what is happening. Later Russian filmmakers, such as Evgeni Bauer, would avoid such devices where possible. The final “drowning” sequence is only on screen for a few seconds, but I suspect that it is where most of the budget went – the water rushes in to Tarakanova’s cell from two directions, looking like quite a good deal of pressure is behind it. Apart from that, the costumes and sets are nicely authentic-looking, but this isn’t a triumph of national cinema.
Starring: V. Mikulina and Madame Pogorel’snaia
Run Time: 18 Min
You can watch it for free: here.