Queen Kelly (1929 - unfinished)

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dachshundonstilts
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Queen Kelly (1929 - unfinished)

Post by dachshundonstilts » Wed Jan 16, 2019 1:20 pm

I've just watched Kino's DVD of what exists of the film that would have probably been Erich von Stroheim's greatest achievement as director and the highlight of Gloria Swanson's career, had it been completed. "Queen Kelly" is an unfinished masterpiece, amounting to perhaps a third of its intended running time of 30 reels/5 hours.

Walter Byron plays Prince Wolfram, a notorious playboy whose engagement to the decadent and jealous Queen Regina V of Kronberg is disrupted by his chance meeting with the innocent and charming Patricia Kelly, who lives in a convent where she has been raised along with other orphaned girls. On the eve of his wedding day, the prince can't get Kelly off his mind, so he sneaks into the convent in the middle of the night, sets off the fire alarm, and carries her off in the resulting confusion. In the prince's apartment within the queen's palace, Kelly proclaims her love for him, but the queen discovers them together, horsewhips Kelly out of the palace, and imprisons the prince for refusing to go through with the marriage.

Back in the convent, Kelly receives a request to visit her dying aunt who runs a brothel in Dar-es-Salaam. Once there, in obedience to her aunt's dying wish, Kelly marries a hideous creepy guy named Jan Vryheid against her will. (Here the filmed portion ends.) Refusing to live with Vryheid, she instead becomes the madam of the brothel, where her extravagant lifestyle gains her the nickname "Queen Kelly." (This harks back to a remark the prince had made to her during their brief romance, "For tonight, pretend you're the queen.") Her husband Vryheid is later killed in a fight. In the end, Queen Regina dies and Prince Wolfram is proclaimed King of Kronberg, taking Kelly as his bride.

Gloria Swanson's performance is really affecting in this film. Von Stroheim's direction is topnotch, with elements of what you might call psychological impressionism (for example, the lighting used on Vryheid to make him appear more hideous when Kelly looks at him). The production is quite lavish and sumptuous; von Stroheim was obviously sparing no expense. This seems to have been a problem for producer Joseph Kennedy, who finally pulled the plug on the project after Swanson complained that she had been misled about the whole brothel storyline, which she found distasteful. (Swanson ultimately released a truncated version in European markets in 1929 with an alternate ending produced by her.)

Included in the DVD is a memo written by von Stroheim giving his perspective on why the project met its untimely demise. During production, Kennedy and Swanson had gone to see "The Jazz Singer," after which Kennedy concluded that further expenditure on a silent film (an anticipated $800,000 on top of the $400,000 already spent on it) could not be justified. Kennedy saw the end of the silent era approaching, and as von Stroheim put it, people would rather go to see the worst talkie than the best silent movie. Interestingly (in comparison to our recent discussions about the Edison Kinetophone in 1913), von Stroheim lamented how the most talented directors of silents were initially shunted aside because of the rigid demands of camera and microphone placement in early talkies, the direction of which he derided as "filming stage plays."

I think it's a tragedy that this photoplay (however objectionable its premise was to Swanson) never saw completion in its intended form. It did, of course, serve the purpose of being the old Norma Desmond film seen briefly in "Sunset Boulevard." Anyone else here watched this one?
Last edited by dachshundonstilts on Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Kitty
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Re: Queen Kelly (1929 - unfinished)

Post by Kitty » Wed Jan 16, 2019 3:06 pm

I don't recall seeing this one, but it sounds like this is a great one to watch, although it is unfinished. Gloria Swanson really was a beauty of sorts, and a surprisingly good actress. She is very smart in real life, and amazing in Sunset Boulevard, but as a young woman she was great in her silents. The only photoplays I have seen her in are Stage Struck, which I personally regard as one of the greatest silent films, and of course Sunset Boulevard.

I think it is such a tragedy that some of Von Stroheim's films did not get completed or were cut down severely. He really was an interesting director. I saw his film Greed and Oh. My. Goodness. That one captured me. I'll never forget that one.
Great review! Thank you!
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donnie
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Re: Queen Kelly (1929 - unfinished)

Post by donnie » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:01 pm

Thanks for that interesting review. I've not seen this one either, but it does sound like an unfinished masterpiece, indeed. In fact, the only feature film I've seen Swanson in (aside from Sunset Boulevard) was Male and Female, and she was wonderful in that.

And I've always been fascinated by Von Stroheim; he was such a genius, both as an actor and a director. It's a great shame that that genius did not fit into the parameters of the Hollywood business world (of course he didn't help himself any on that count).

I think he was spot on in his comments about the late silents and the early talkies. That situation was illustrated so well in the Hollywood series segment about the coming of sound.

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dachshundonstilts
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Re: Queen Kelly (1929 - unfinished)

Post by dachshundonstilts » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:49 pm

Yeah, Stroheim could be his own worst enemy. I keep thinking how "City Lights" was released as a silent in 1931 and still managed to succeed.
"I feel so low, old chap, that I could get on stilts and walk under a dachshund." - Monty, "It" (1927)

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Kitty
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Re: Queen Kelly (1929 - unfinished)

Post by Kitty » Thu Jan 17, 2019 2:49 am

dachshundonstilts wrote:
Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:49 pm
Yeah, Stroheim could be his own worst enemy. I keep thinking how "City Lights" was released as a silent in 1931 and still managed to succeed.
I personally think that Chaplin was so big that if he came out with a silent in 1950 it would have done well. Correct me if I'm wrong.
You trying to tell me you didn't hear that shriek? That was something trying to get out of its premature grave, and I don't want to be here when it does. - Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

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dachshundonstilts
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Re: Queen Kelly (1929 - unfinished)

Post by dachshundonstilts » Thu Jan 17, 2019 8:58 am

Nah, you're not wrong.
"I feel so low, old chap, that I could get on stilts and walk under a dachshund." - Monty, "It" (1927)

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