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Prince Wolfram is the betrothed of mad Queen Regina V of Kronberg. Supreme ruler, her word is law and he is a playboy. On maneuvers as punishment for partying with other women, he sees Kelly walking the the other students of a convent. He is intrigued by her beauty and wants her. He kidnaps her that night from the convent and takes her to his room and professes his love for her. When the Queen finds them together the next morning , she whips Kelly and throws her out of the castle. Regina then puts Wolfram into prison for not wanting to marry the Queen. Kelly goes to German East Africa to visit her dying Aunt and is forced to marry the disgusting Jan. The Aunt dies after the wedding and Kelly refuses to live with Jan and becomes the head of Aunties Brothel. Her extravagances and style earn her the name 'Queen Kelly' and Prince Wolfram does not marry Queen Regina V. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Eric Von Stroheim (1885-1957) was among the silent era's most visionary, artistically ambitious directors; Gloria Swanson (1897-1983) was among the screen's first "divas" and one of the silent era's greatest stars. With Swanson's lover Joe Kennedy (father of John, Robert and Ted) acting as money man, Von Stroheim and Swanson teamed to create a film that both believed would be crowing achievement of their careers: QUEEN KELLY.
Less than a third of the script was filmed when Swanson called Kennedy and demanded that Von Stroheim be fired. He was, and in his absence Swanson filmed several scenes intended to round out the story line and make the film fit for release. In doing so she reckoned with Von Stroheim, who had cannily held copyright and who flatly refused to permit distribution--and as the battle wore on sound began to roar, making the film less commercially viable with every passing day. Swanson was eventually able to release QUEEN KELLY in Europe, but it generated little interest and was soon withdrawn. It would not be seen in America until after Von Stroheim's death. It would be Von Stroheim's last major work as a director and it would effectively end Swanson's film career for a decade or more.
In the interval the reputation of QUEEN KELLY began to grow. It was, many declared, a lost masterpiece much like Von Stroheim's legendary GREED. And when it at last became widely available it leaped onto every critic and buff's short list of "important" silent movies. But time has a way of smoothing out peaks and valleys. Seen today, QUEEN KELLY is interesting--but only for what it might have been, not for what it actually is.
The story is distinctly odd. Prince Wolfram (Walter Byron) is betrothed to Queen Regina (Seena Owen), a vicious, half-mad, and intensely despot he despises. While riding in the country he comes upon a group of orphans that includes Kitty Kelly (Gloria Swanson), who makes an impression on him by loosing her bloomers and then angrily throwing them in his face when he laughs at her. Determined to see her again, the Prince stages a fire in the convent and under cover of smoke kidnaps Kitty and takes her to the palace, where she soon surrenders to his charms. But there is hell to pay when Queen Regina discovers the girl, and before you know it Prince Wolfram is in the dungeon and Kitty has, of all things, inherited a brothel in Africa. Will they find each other again? It is basically at this point that the film footage ends. The Kino release attempts to finish out the story with a handful of stills and title cards, and true enough we do learn the outcome of the story--but it is a very academic proposition, to say the very least, and although it seems to have a certain promise it is very hard to say what Stroheim might have done with the rest of the story. Hopefully more than he was able to do with the first third! For while the existing footage is not bad, it hardly compares with either Stroheim or Swanson at their finest.
Indeed, Swanson seems extremely miscast in the title role. It is utterly impossible to accept her as an innocent orphan raised in a convent. Much more interesting is Seena Owen as the evil Queen Regina, who is sullen, dangerous, and utterly fascinating; in the film's most memorable scene, in which Kitty is chased through the palace by the whip-wielding Queen, it is Owen who dominates the scene, not Swanson. As for Von Stroheim, he is clearly building a series of visual motifs that reference sex, most notably in his use of candles, fires, and smoke--but with the film suddenly unfinished it is very difficult to know to what end he intended it.
This is really a film for silent film connoisseurs, and even they may find it frustrating to the point of annoyance. The Kino print is very good, but there is no getting around the fact that the film itself ends at the very point at which our interest in both plot and characters begins to build. Recommended, but as a curiosity only. Trivia: some twenty years later Swanson and Von Stroheim co-starred in the legendary SUNSET BLVD--and the film that silent star Norma Desmond watches is none other QUEEN KELLY.
Gary F. Taylor (aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer)
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