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Queen Kelly (1929).

July 20, 2007

The Scoop:
Produced by star Gloria Swanson and her paramour Joseph Kennedy, this film really belongs to the extravagant director Erich von Stroheim, who imbued this routine romantic melodrama with his usual opulent and perverse excesses. The result is another of von Stroheim’s unfinished masterpieces — truncated, yet with just enough of his genius intact to tantalize the viewer with what might have been.

Swanson plays the title character, a poor waif whose love affair with a dallying prince (Walter Byron) earns her the wrath of the princess (Seena Owen, who, in the most famous scene, whips Kelly before throwing her out of the palace) and personal struggles in the African jungle. The story is strictly formula for the period, and the only reason to watch it today is for von Stroheim’s signature direction.

Unhappy with his work and far overbudget, Swanson fired von Stroheim before the film was finished and, although it was finished later by famed cinematographer Gregg Toland, it was not released in the U.S. until the 1950s. It was such an expensive boondoggle that it effectively ended both Swanson’s and von Stroheim’s careers in Hollywood (not that the director needed any further help with that by this point).

Best Bit:
The S&M fire of the whipping scene.

Side Note:
Years later, Swanson made her comeback in “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) as a vain former silent movie star and was able to convince director Billy Wilder to cast von Stroheim in the role of her character’s former director turned chauffeur. As if those real-life parallels for the two weren’t enough, clips of “Queen Kelly” are used as one of the films the characters had made together.

Companion Viewing:
“The Merry Widow” (1925).


Take a Look:
There’s a lengthy (but frustratingly unembeddable) clip here, which includes the whipping scene.

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