“Unmistakably a lady of the horizontal profession.”
Queen Kelly–written and directed by Erich von Stroheim–was never completed, so all that we have is about half a film and a handful of fragments, but even so this is marvelous stuff for silent film fans. It’s a fairly simple story: Decadent Queen Regina V (Seena Owen)–the last of her line–rules her kingdom with an iron fist. She intends to marry playboy Prince Wolfram (Walter Byron), and he’s trying his best to avoid the final commitment of marriage, but that’s a little difficult as he’s both her ‘subject’ and an occupant of her opulent palace.
The film quickly establishes that both Regina and Wolfram are a dissipated pair. She’s drunk when she wakes up in the morning, and he races until dawn with a group of madcap acquaintances. Regina’s displeasure at Wolfram’s antics results in her demand that he marry her the next day and that he spend his last day of bachelorhood marching around with his men. So Wolfram and his men take to their steeds, and begin maneuvers on a road outside of a convent. Here, Wolfram meets and falls for convent orphan Patricia Kelly (Gloria Swanson)….
When the film went massively over budget, and star Gloria Swanson halted production after objecting to the African brothel scenes, von Stroheim was fired by the film’s financier Joseph Kennedy (Swanson’s lover). Too bad–because the film really is great fun, and I loved the African bordello–including the drooling Jan Vryheid and the prostitute Coughdrops. Everything about this film is over-the top–there’s Regina who’s fond of the whip, and she’s also not averse to tossing her cats around at the appropriate moment. And then there’s Wolfram who will go to whatever lengths are necessary to meet with Patricia Kelly–the girl with the droopy bloomers.
This wonderful Kino edition includes loads of extras, and this at least allows the viewer to piece together the story as it was intended (and we can also see Swanson’s vastly more respectable and comparatively dull ending). DVD extras include: audio commentary by biographer Richard Koszarski, outtake footage, The Kino International restored ending, the “Swanson Ending,” videotaped introduction by Gloria Swanson, excerpt of the original screenplay, production documents, photo gallery, “Man of Many Skins”–a 1952 TV performance, audio clips of cinematographer Paul Ivano, assistant William Marguiles Allan Dwan and Billy Wilder, dossier on Merry-Go-Round with excerpts of scenes directed by von Stroheim, and a note on the film from von Stroheim. Personally, I preferred the von Stroheim naughty version of the story.