The story of Catherine the Great, lavishly portrayed by director Josef von Sternberg, with Marlene Dietrich (who else?) in the title role. German-born Princess Sophia (Dietrich) is married off to Russia's half-mad Grand Duke Peter (Sam Jaffe), in the hope of improving the royal blood line. Forced to continue in a loveless marriage, and put up with the eccentricities of her mother-in-law, Empress Elizabeth (Louise Dresser), Catherine finds comfort in the arms of a succession of soldiers and the opportunistic Count Alexei (John Lodge). Forever anxious to strengthen her power base, Catherine's chance finally arrives with the death of the aged Elizabeth, allowing her to assume the title of Empress. With one last hurdle to overcome, that of her treacherous husband, Catherine achieves her future legacy by staging a coup d'etat with the aid of the military.