For all her fame and notoriety, Tallulah Bankhead left just a handful of movies behind and majority of people nowadays might be familiar with her only as inspiration for Walt Disney's villainess Cruella de Vil. Her mannerisms and personality were talk of the day trough the first part of 20th century and it appears she was far busier in theatre than on a silver screen, where her outrageous persona was successfully emulated by Bette Davis who have built her whole career out of strong, intimidating characters that Bankhead played on stage. But where Davis acting always had some dangerous, neurotic edge, under all Bankhead's bravado we suspect heart of gold and some touching vulnerability. The only movie role I have ever seen with her was in 1944 "Lifeboat" by Alfred Hitchcock where she received some of the best reviews of her career, but until now I didn't know anything else with her.
Hilarious romp "A Royal Scandal" is obvious exaggerated satire that has absolutely nothing with real-life historical characters, except using their names. Concerned with entertainment value more than depicting facts, Hollywood already had a long tradition of royalty as caricatures (see Charles Laughton in "The Private Life of Henry VIII") and Catherine the Great - indisputably strong personality and capable ruler in her time - unfortunately had stigma marked upon her by future generations who simply assumed she must have been man-eater, so she made a perfect subject for cinematic topsy-turvy but where previously Marlene Dietrich played her as (what else) seductive temptress, here we have delicious, fast-talking, bantering comedy with so much wit that it overflows the screen. Some say that Greta Garbo was considered for this role, but in my opinion neither Garbo nor Davis could bring what Bankhead delivers here - her Catherine is obviously great connoisseur of handsome men in uniforms but she is at the same time aware of everybody, including her own foibles. Her comic timing is impeccable and she manipulates people like a pro, even though chancellor Charles Coburn almost steals the movie. Young William Eythe as simpleminded soldier who unwittingly becomes empress plaything and Anne Baxter as his fresh-faced fiancee are just cards in a game, all our attention is focused on Bankhead who is supremely entertaining. Somewhere in there, there is a surprising turn of young and dashing Vincent Price who literary have three minutes on a screen and his role could have been explored much more. Funny phrases galore, this now forgotten movie might just delight you with richness of sharp wit and risque humor.