Emperor’s Candlesticks, The: George Fitzmaurice’s Romantic Tale of Spies

George Fitzmaurice directed The Emperor’s Candlesticks, a lavishly produced tale of spies from opposing sides of the political spectrum, who fall in love in pre-revolutionary Russia.

The Emperor’s Candlesticks
Poster - Emperor's Candlesticks, The 01.jpg

Theatrical Film Poster

Based on the novel of the same name by Baroness Orczy, the movie stars William Powell and Oscar winner Luise Rainer.

Visiting Vienna incognito, Russian Grand Duke Peter (Robert Young) is lured away from a masquerade ball by the beautiful Maria (Maureen O’Sullivan), only to find himself the prisoner of Polish nationalists. Peter is made to write a letter to his father, the Czar of Russia, offering to exchange him for Maria’s father, who’s about to be executed.

Since previous petitions for clemency were intercepted and never reached the Czar, the Poles asks secret agent Baron Stephan Wolensky (William Powell) to deliver the letter. Meanwhile, Colonel Pavloff (Frank Reicher), head of the Russian secret police, assigns his own agent, Countess Olga Mironova (Luise Rainer), to take to Russia documents incriminating Wolensky as an agent, along with an order for his arrest.

In the end, Pavloff arrests Miranova at her mansion St. Petersburg. When Wolensky shows up with her documents, she tosses them into the fireplace. Pavloff takes them to the Czar, who frees the loving couple.

Benefiting from lush production values (which by today’s standards would be considered as Hollywood kitsch–and Luise Rainer’s momentum as MGM’s new big star–the movie was moderately successful at the box-office.

This was the third—and last—film co-starring Rainer and William Powell. The first was the romantic comedy Escapade (1935). Rainier won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Anna Held opposite Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld in their second film, The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

Rainer would make only half a dozen films at MGM, including The Good Earth, for which Rainer would win her second (consecutive) Best Actress Oscar.


William Powell as Baron Stephan Wolensky
Luise Rainer as Countess Olga Mironova
Robert Young as Grand Duke Peter
Maureen O’Sullivan as Maria
Frank Morgan as Colonel Baron Suroff
Henry Stephenson as Prince Johann
Bernadene Hayes as Mitzi
Donald Kirke as Anton
Douglas Dumbrille as Korum
Charles Waldron as Dr. Malchor
Ian Wulf as Leon
Barnett Parker as Albert
Frank Reicher as Pavloff
Bert Roach as Porter
Paul Porcasi as Santuzzi
E. E. Clive as Auctioneer
Emma Dunn as Housekeeper
Frank Conroy as Colonel Radoff

Directed by Geo. Fitzmaurice
Screenplay by Monckton Hoffe, Harold Goldman, based on the 1899 novel, The Emperor’s Candlesticks, by Baroness Orczy
Produced by John W. Considine, Jr.
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Oliver T. Marsh (uncredited)
Edited by Conrad A. Nervig
Music by Franz Waxman

Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: July 2, 1937 (U.S.)

Running time: 89 minutes
Budget $620,000
Box office $1,333,000