The wife of an American playwright in Paris becomes ensnared in the seductive wiles of an American Army officer, but her devotion to her husband convinces the officer to try to extricate ... See full summary »
Erich von Stroheim
Sam De Grasse,
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 <email@example.com>
I am going to address the Kino DVD of Queen Kelly because that is how I saw the film (which is probably true of most of the film's North American viewers). Queen Kelly is never going to resemble anything close to what its director Erich von Stroheim imagined. Therefore, any version is a compromise. There are two options as releases go. An abbreviated version of what was filmed of the script was released with a hasty ending shot at the request of star Gloria Swanson. This version is called the Swanson cut. The second version is a restoration that includes all of the extant footage that was filmed (some materials having been lost). To fill in gaps, this release uses still photos and a scrawl at the end to inform viewers what was supposed to have happened had the production continued. Kino decided to release the film on DVD using the restoration while having the Swanson ending as an extra. I feel that this was a mistake, and Kino should have either released both versions of the film on the DVD (preferrably) or released the Swanson cut and had the found von Stroheim footage as an extra on the DVD.
The Swanson cut is a good movie, with a weak ending. However, it does a work as a movie, if a somewhat stunted one. There is a beginning (lovers meet), a middle (lovers spend an enchanted night together), and a quick ending. Along the way, the film conjures some wonderful scenes: Queen Regina with her cat descending upon Prince Wolfram and his dog, Kelly meeting the Prince and losing a piece of clothing, Kelly in the church sanctuary bathed in candlelight, and the climatic meeting between Kelly and the Queen.
By contrast, the restoration is problematic because it fails to go anywhere. There is a beginning, the start of a middle, and then a bunch of scenes, great masterful scenes, but scenes that do not pay off. Then the film ends with an epilogue explaining what the viewer might have seen had the film finished shooting and had then been edited and released the way von Stroheim intended (not a guarantee considering what happened with Greed which was all filmed).
I can appreciate Kino's dilemma. The found, unused scenes from the film feature some of the most astounding visuals and drama of any American silent film. The brothel setting oozes ornamental decadence. Film fans owe a lot to whomever preserved these scenes. Yet, I don't think the restoration works as a self-contained film. The found footage plays like a fascinating twenty minute trailer for a grand epic that no one will ever get to see. By taking out Swanson's ending and putting in this footage, the restorers end with an unfinished film and a frustrating viewing experience.
I happened to be reading Andrew Sarris's The Primal Screen during the same period I watched Queen Kelly. A quote stood out from that book which fit director von Stroheim.
"I think it is a mistake for critics to scold artists or event to bemoan their bad luck . . . . It is better to accept and appreciate the supposed 'disappointments' of our time - Welles, Mailer, Salinger - for what they have done rather than for what they might have done if we had been able to crack the whip over them. They have all done as much as they were humanly capable of doing, and so did Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Dos Passos before them, and thank God for The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises and U.S.A. and never mind the rude avoidance of encores."
Yes, thank God for any version of Greed and Queen Kelly, even if I do believe that the restorations of both films are less satisfying for viewers than the original, theatrical cuts.
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