This historical drama about the charismatic Russian monk and the last Romanovs won an Oscar for its original screenplay by Charles MacArthur.
As the Romanovs celebrate 300 years ruling Russia in 1913 at Moscow, Prince Paul Chegodieff (John Barrymore) informs Czar Nicholas (Ralph Morgan) that his uncle Sergei has been assassinated; Paul refuses to kill the suspects. Czarina Alexandra (Ethel Barrymore) asks what they have done to make people hate them. Paul stops the Grand Duke Igor from using a firing squad. Igor complains to the Czar, who reprimands Paul. Paul warns the Czar that his people's love could be lost by violence. Czar Nicholas asks Paul to help him form an elected Duma. Paul's fiancée Princess Natasha (Diana Wynyard) tells him about Rasputin, who is called on to help hemophiliac Alexis when he is in critical condition from bleeding. Rasputin (Lionel Barrymore) tells Alexandra that prayer will heal her son. Doctor Remezov (Edward Arnold) is dismissed. Rasputin hypnotizes Alexis and shows that he has been cured by God.
As Rasputin is celebrating with his friends, the chief of the secret police visits him, and they agree to cooperate. Rasputin criticizes Kropotkin's ideas about rights for peasants, and he tells Paul he plans to run Russia. Rasputin teaches Alexis about power by showing him an ant killing a fly (representing an aristocratic general). After Alexis bites him, Paul tells Alexandra that Alexis has changed. Natasha visits Rasputin's house and warns him that his life is in danger. Paul arrives and shoots Rasputin three times, but he is protected by hidden armor.
Czar Nicholas gets a telegram from Kaiser Wilhelm to demobilize or face war. Rasputin tells Nicholas to help the weak Serbians, while Paul warns him that Rasputin wants war. The Czar then fires Paul for having attempted to kill to Rasputin. Russia declares war, and Nicholas takes command of the army. Rasputin gives Princess Maria a necklace and visits her bed. Natasha is going to tell on him; but he chokes her and hypnotizes her. Alexandra finds Natasha in a trance but learns from her what Rasputin did. Rasputin tells the Czarina that he is in control and that all obey him. At a party with aristocratic women doctor Remezov gives Rasputin poisoned cakes and wine. Angry at Paul, Rasputin with a gun takes him into a room and shoots him as he eats more cakes. Paul tells him he is poisoned, and they fight. Paul beats Rasputin and finally drowns him in an icy lake. The Czar sentences Paul to exile but will gradually remove "Rasputin's creatures." Paul warns him that Rasputin prophesied Russia would die with his death. After the revolution a soldier takes the royal family from the palace to a train and their execution.
In real life the Russian prince won one million dollars in a libel suit against MGM for indicating his wife had been raped by Rasputin (apparently in the longer original version). This led to motion pictures using the disclaimer that any similarity to actual people is only coincidental. Although the film may not have been accurate in every detail, it tells the dramatic story of the Romanov's fall as aided by the phenomenal Rasputin, who did in fact persuade many women to sin with him so that they could be saved.