Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Queen Kelly (Erich von Stroheim) ***1/2

Erich von Stroheim

Cast: Gloria Swanson, Walter Byron, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall

Background: This was a troubled production, as star Gloria Swanson was unhappy with Stroheim's direction and fired him after only one third of the film had been completed. Swanson then worked hard to complete the film with different directors, but von Stroheim's contract made this difficult.

Story: Prince Wolfram (Byron), unhappily bound to marry Queen Regina (Owen), falls in love with Kelly (Swanson), a student at a convent. He takes her to the castle to declare his love for her, but the Queen spots her and forcefully throws her out. Prince Wolfram promises that he will come find her one day.

Thoughts: What a crazy story! It plays out like an exciting prime time soap opera. I mean, you have a main character who fakes a fire to kidnap a girl that he loves. And this is treated as a great romantic gesture. You have an actress in Seena Owen that deliciously chews up so much scenery that it seems like she's auditioning for a 1929 version of Melrose Place. The movie was never fully completed, but if anything the choppy story progression, missing scenes, and bizarre ending add to the whole experience. The story is so ridiculous and moves at a surprisingly quick pace that it actually becomes quite exciting. Gloria Swanson is definitely an appealing lead and Byron acquits himself nicely as the prince. Who the hell knows what von Stroheim was going for, or how far away this is from his vision, but what is available to us on DVD today sure is a fun time.

Postscript: The film wasn't released in the United states because von Stroheim refused to approve any edited version of his work. Clips from the film were used in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, which starred Swanson and featured von Stroheim as a former director who worked with Swanson's character during the silent era.

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