Von Sternberg later claimed that Emil Jannings, who won the first acting Oscar for, in part, this role, kept mixing up the behavior of general before and after his fall from power, sometimes playing the powerful Grand Duke too much like the head-twitching old man of the later half. But for me, it is just this slight confusion that lends Jannings’ performance so much credence. Even as the towering general, head of the Russian forces, he is also a kind of fool, a man that dares to believe he can lure the beautiful Natalie into his bed. As his own men perceive, he does not even know the proper procedure, awarding her the gift of pearls before the champagne and caviar, when most seducers would have waited until after. It is just this slight confusion, which Jannings would repeat with the beautiful Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel two years later, that makes the character so appealing, despite the fierceness and intensity of his commitment to his cause, as he becomes a kind of “holy fool,” a man of such deep resolve that he becomes admirable despite being on the wrong side of history.
he was a great man.