Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Independent Film Guide - Q

Queen Kelly Movie Review

stroheim von film swanson

Queen Kelly is one of the great might-have-beens in movie history. Directed by the great Erich von Stroheim and starring the legendary Gloria Swanson, fresh from her Oscar-nominated triumph as Sadie Thompson, Queen Kelly promised to be yet another mouth-watering excursion into the world of the rich and decadent. It was. But Swanson, who was then in the midst of an affair with its married producer, Joseph Kennedy, was convinced that von Stroheim's sexy epic would be censored by Will Hays. About a third of the film had been made when Swanson walked off the set without warning to tattle on von Stroheim to Kennedy and Queen Kelly ended production that very day. She made an effort to release a truncated version of the film in the early '30s and even included a segment in 1950s Sunset Boulevard, in which von Stroheim made an ironic appearance as her butler. What remains of Queen Kelly is tantalizing: it draws on all our fantasies of one night of romance between a star-struck schoolgirl and the handsome prince. Von Stroheim is entirely sympathetic to the plight of young Patricia Kelly and makes her situation even more poignant by supplying her with an unforgettable nemesis. Seena Owen is mesmerizing as the possessive Queen who wants to have the wild prince Wolfram all to herself, whether or not he loves her. In one breathtaking sequence, after the Queen has caught the two of them in bed together, she banishes her rival from the palace, whipping her unmercifully as amused male courtiers laugh at the spectacle. This is the sort of sequence that might be unplayable, or at the very least diminished, in a sound film, but von Stroheim stages the primal conflict between the two women in such a lavish operatic style that it's almost impossible not to get caught up in the underlying emotions. With such a remarkable start, what's missing from the film may be even sadder than all those missing reels of Greed. At least we can read McTeague, the Frank Norris novel on which Greed was based. But Queen Kelly is a pure von Stroheim screen original from start to finish and his interpretation of the African brothel where the disgraced Kelly is forced to live in exile is filled with a sexual candor rarely seen on the screen before or since. Granted, von Stroheim's vision of the brothel is over the top, but the surviving footage still offers fascinating and unique insights into the sexual politics that informed his every film. Even in its incomplete form, Queen Kelly is still something to see; catch it if you can!

1929 113m/B Gloria Swanson, Walter Byron, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, Madame Sul Te Wan; D: Erich von Stroheim; W: Erich von Stroheim; C: Paul Ivano, Gordon Pollock. VHS, LV, 8mm

Queens Logic Movie Review [next] [back] Q (The Winged Serpent) Movie Review

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or