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Queen Kelly (1932) Online

Queen Kelly (1932) Online
Original Title :
Queen Kelly
Genre :
Movie / Drama
Year :
Directror :
Erich von Stroheim,Richard Boleslawski
Cast :
Gloria Swanson,Walter Byron,Seena Owen
Writer :
Erich von Stroheim,Marian Ainslee
Budget :
Type :
Time :
1h 41min
Rating :
Queen Kelly (1932) Online

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.
Complete credited cast:
Gloria Swanson Gloria Swanson - Kitty Kelly / Queen Kelly
Walter Byron Walter Byron - Prince Wolfram
Seena Owen Seena Owen - Queen Regina V

When Tully Marshall dribbled tobacco juice on Gloria Swanson's hand during the wedding sequence and explained that director Erich von Stroheim ordered him to do it, it was the final straw. She called producer Joseph P. Kennedy and demanded that von Stroheim be fired. He was, effectively shutting down the production.

According to the crew members who worked on this film, the girls who accompany Wolfram to the palace gates were played by actual prostitutes who worked at one of the best brothels in Hollywood.

A clip from the film appears in Boulevard der Dämmerung (1950), where Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson), a silent movie star who is planning a comeback, watches one of her former films. Erich von Stroheim plays Max Von Mayerling, Desmond's butler, who serves as projectionist for the film clip. It is later revealed that Max was the silent movie director who discovered Norma Desmond. Director Billy Wilder recalled that it was von Stroheim's idea to use the clip from _Queen Kelly_ (1932) in Boulevard der Dämmerung (1950), as a way of "art imitating life."

Although Boston banker and broker Joseph Kennedy, father of the future president, and then lover of Gloria Swanson, was very active in re-organizing and managing Hollywood film studios in financial trouble, this is one of the only films that he personally produced. It was also to be one of his last, as he and his backers lost a fortune when he was forced to fire von Stroheim, and his mistress refused to return for reshoots and a new story. Shortly after, Kennedy ended his role in Gloria Productions, then sold his interests in Pathe pictures, and ended his involvement in the film business. In the next decade, he began a political career--first as a backer of FDR who appointed him head of the Security Exchange Commission, and then ambassador to the Court of St. James. Irish Kennedy's anti-English feelings so embarrassed Churchill that he forced FDR to recall Kennedy, thus ending his political ambitions. Joseph spent the rest of his life managing his son's ascent.

Gloria Swanson hosted a US television broadcast of the film in 1966. The version that aired featured the European ending.

After shooting only one-third of the picture (four hours), director Erich von Stroheim was fired by producer-star Gloria Swanson. Two years later, additional footage was shot to complete the picture. Since von Stroheim owned part of the property, he refused to grant releasing rights in the U.S. and elsewhere for this bastardized version. It was not exhibited in the U.S. until after Boulevard der Dämmerung (1950), when it received minor theatrical release and a showing on television in 1966.

In 1931, Gloria Swanson hired Gregg Toland to shoot some additional scenes for release in Europe in 1932. These consisted of Prince Wolfram seeing Kelly's drowned body and committing suicide himself. That scene (in the Force Video alternate version) is not in the 1985 Kino restored version, which continues on to African scenes.

The uniforms worn throughout the Kronburg scenes are all clearly adapted from real Prussian uniforms worn by members of the German army through about 1914. The palace guards all wear the uniform of the Prussian Palace Guard Company. Prince Wolfram and his regiment all wear the helmets and cuirasses (breastplates) warn by the Prussian Garde du Corps (c. 1890s) when they are parading on the Kambach Road. After the banquet scene, Wolfram's adjutant is seen wearing the ceremonial version of the Garde du Corps uniform, which features the 'supraweste' (embroidered red vest) and butcher boots. Director Erich von Stroheim had made a name for himself as a military advisor early in his career, so he was very familiar with the details of such uniforms.

Erich von Stroheim clashed with Paul Ivano numerous times; Ivano would frequently be fired by the exacting director, only to be immediately reinstated by Gloria Swanson.

Erich von Stroheim's production methods were so strenuous that many crew members came down with the flu.

Gordon Pollock was replaced with Paul Ivano after the first day of shooting after some costume tests photographed by Ivano proved to be much more satisfactory than the scenes (from the Kambach Road sequence) that Pollock had taken.

It has been suggested by film historians that Erich von Stroheim's first choice for Wolfram was Norman Kerry, with whom he had worked in Merry-Go-Round (1923). Walter Byron was producer-star Gloria Swanson's choice for the role, but von Stroheim claimed to have been dissatisfied with Byron's performance.

Had the film been shot as Erich von Stroheim had intended, its running time would have been about four hours.

Producer Walter Futter purchased the negative for the film in 1939 for $10,000. Apparently he wanted to make use of footage from the European sequences to cheaply make a spy thriller set in a fictitious Balkan country. No such film was apparently ever made.

Erich von Stroheim reportedly spent over 24 hours shooting the scene in which Queen Regina, played by Seena Owen, is introduced in her boudoir. Owen had to be nude, covering her chest with a white cat. After a few takes the cat began to scratch her and had to be fitted with mittens.

Erich von Stroheim recycled many plot elements from the (mostly not-filmed) African scenes from this film into a script he wrote in 1933 called 'Poto-Poto'. The script was submitted to studios for consideration but was never purchased or filmed.

The first scenes for the film were the meeting between Kelly and Wolfram on Kambach Road.

The fictional capital city in which the European scenes take place is called Kronberg. There is in fact a real town called Kronberg im Taunus, in Hesse, Germany.

Although Boston banker and broker Joseph Kennedy, father of the future president, and then lover of Gloria Swanson, was very active in re-organizing and managing Hollywood film studios in financial trouble, this is one of the only films that he personally produced. It was also to be the last, as he and his backers lost a fortune when he was forced to fire von Stroheim, and his mistress refused to return for reshoots and a new story. Shortly after, Kennedy sold his last interests in Pathe pictures, and ended his involvement in the film business. In the next decade, he began a political career--first as a backer of FDR who appointed him head of the Security Exchange Commission, and then ambassador to the Court of St. James. Irish Kennedy's anti-English feelings so embarrassed Churchill that he forced FDR to recall Kennedy, thus ending his political ambitions. Joseph spent the rest of his life managing his son's ascent.

Erich von Stroheim: [janitor] Wolfram returns to the palace after a night of drunken revelry and passes a cleaning person with a vacuum cleaner on his way up the palace's grand staircase.

Erich von Stroheim: [prostitution] Prince Wolfram and his adjutant arrive at the palace in the opening scenes accompanied by a group of prostitutes. Kelly is also later sent to live in a brothel in Africa, which she takes over.

The scene on the Kambach road was originally shot as scripted, with Kelly loosing her pantaloons and Wolfram picking them up with his sword, pretending to pocket them, and then returning them to her before riding off. After star Gloria Swanson finished her portion of the scene, Erich von Stroheim reshot the scene with Walter Byron giving the bloomers a sniff. This change in the sequence infuriated Swanson, who found it distasteful and 'unthinkable' for inclusion in a film.

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I'd imagine that most people who would come to this page to read a review of Erich Von Stroheim's unfinished epic Queen Kelly already know something about it, but nonetheless it seems a little historical context is necessary before attempting to critique the fragment that remains. This was a deeply troubled project, memorably described by leading lady Gloria Swanson as a child that refused to be born. Set in a fictitious 'Middle European' kingdom, the first portion of Von Stroheim's screenplay tells a fairy tale-like story of an innocent convent girl, Patricia Kelly, who becomes involved with a wastrel Prince-- who, unbeknownst to her, is already betrothed to the Queen. At first the Prince wants only to toy with Kelly, but in the course of their one evening together he sincerely falls in love with her. Unfortunately, the mad Queen Regina learns of the affair and literally flogs Kelly out of the palace. Kelly attempts suicide, but is rescued and abruptly sent to German East Africa, where her dying aunt runs a brothel. She is forced to marry a syphilitic plantation owner and eventually winds up successfully running the brothel herself, under the ironic moniker "Queen Kelly."

As originally scripted this film might have run as long as five hours, so the portion available today represents barely one-third of the intended opus. The project marked the sole collaboration between writer/director Von Stroheim, star/producer Swanson, and co-producer Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of the political dynasty (who was also Swanson's lover at the time). Plans for this silent epic were launched at the end of 1927, but by the time shooting began in fall of 1928 the talkie revolution was sweeping Hollywood, and this would prove to be perhaps the biggest single factor that doomed the project to limbo. Three months into the filming Von Stroheim was fired, and for the next few years Swanson attempted to finish the movie in various ways, finally releasing a truncated version in Europe in 1932. In the 1960s about twenty minutes' worth of footage from the sequence set in Africa was discovered, and this material was reunited with the earlier portion in a restored version completed in 1985.

Given this history it seems almost unfair to critique what remains of Queen Kelly at all, but the restoration presents a rough idea of what the movie might have amounted to in its longer form. This is a fascinating fragment with both positive and negative aspects.

On the positive side, the film is beautiful to look at; Paul Ivano's gleaming cinematography ranks with the best work of the era. Practically every shot boasts features of striking interest, and the production design teems with the sort of character-revealing detail for which Von Stroheim was known. Befitting the unreal atmosphere, Seena Owen and Tully Marshall offer highly stylized character turns as Queen Regina and plantation owner Jan Vryheid. Owen's Mad Queen is unforgettable, lounging about the palace nude (while toting a strategically positioned white cat!), surrounded by erotic art and brandishing a riding crop. Marshall's scenes are limited to a few minutes in the recovered 'Africa' footage, but he etches a vivid portrait of creepy decadence.

On the debit side, however, is the central and insurmountable problem that Gloria Swanson was miscast in the title role: she simply isn't credible as the innocent convent girl the story demands. Kelly is supposed to be a sheltered girl who has never tasted champagne. Swanson was 31 years old when this film was made and, frankly, looked older. Even in films she made in her early 20s she comes off as a tough cookie who could handle anything, but here, alongside the actual girls who are supposed to be her contemporaries, Gloria looks like she should be playing the Mother Superior. Von Stroheim's leading lady from The Wedding March, 21 year-old Fay Wray, would have been perfect as Kelly, but once producer Swanson cast herself in the role the project was inherently flawed.

Another problem is that most of this material was edited together only after Von Stroheim had been fired and the production shut down, when Swanson was attempting to assemble a marketable feature-length movie out of the opening 'Middle Europe' section. Originally these scenes had been intended to serve as little more than a prologue to the Africa story, but since it was the only portion completed the editors were forced to extend what they had to pad the running time. There is much lingering over details and too many prolonged reaction shots, especially in the scenes between Kelly and the Prince. It's said that when Erich Von Stroheim saw this version of the film in later years he complained that the pace was far too slow, and so it appears today: sumptuously photographed but draggy, despite the occasional high points.

In sum, while I would call this film a must for silent movie buffs, I don't believe the average viewer would find much to enjoy in Queen Kelly. This is one of those legendary disasters with a "backstory" rather more interesting than what we see on screen. In that light I can especially recommend watching the recent DVD release with film scholar Richard Koszarski's commentary accompanying the visuals, to help make sense of it all.


Scandalous, characteristically grotesque parable of human degradation from director Eric Von Stroheim (Greed). Its original title was to be The Swamp, an appropriate description of the noxious mire in which the characters find themselves engulfed and (in this version anyway) overwhelmed. It is difficult to review this film given that approximately a third or so remains extant. The film was made over the final months of 1928 and early 1929, but production was halted at the request of star Gloria Swanson, whose production company was partly involved in its financing. The complete film was planned at some five hours running time. What remains is some seventy minutes of a complete first act and a lengthy fragment of a later bit of action set in East Africa which is included in the most recent restoration print (1985), along with production stills and intertitles which explain the main thrust of the missing pieces and the remainder of the story. As such what we have here is a work in progress, a segment of a complete work which makes any judgment upon its overall thematic coherence, direction, and execution speculative at best, moot at worst. Nonetheless students of film and film buffs in general will not want to miss an opportunity to see this fascinating bit of late twenties Hollywood history, not least of all because it was the last studio project for the much-maligned Von Stroheim. Having sat by and watched his masterpiece Greed torn apart by financiers and having the plug pulled on this one by none less than his own leading lady, he can't but have felt betrayed by the enchroacing commercialism in a medium of which he was proving a consummate artist. It is little wonder that Billy Wilder would cast him with gleeful sadism as the devoted butler to Swanson's decomposing harridan in Sunset Boulevard with all due historical irony, and perhaps it it even more fitting that Von Stroheim handled himself which such composure and dignity in the role.

Fortunately, Queen Kelly was shot in sequence, so the first seventy minutes or so is a coherent and well balanced bit of outrageous social hysteria. Set in a fictitious European kingdom of some sort, the events concern the pending engagement of mad Queen Seena Owen with the less than willing aristocratic playboy Walter Bryon, who prefers riding carriage horses to the hoots and hollers of female courtiers who bet their underwear on the outcome of the race. While the Queen strolls around her palace naked (strategically covered by well-placed objects, bits of scenery and a long-haired white cat), her eyes burning with paranoia and jealousy, Bryon encounters a young (Irish) convent girl (Swanson) with whom he falls instantly in love. Their meeting takes place one day whilst the prince is on manoeuvres with his regiment and the girl is out walking with her classmates under the supervision of nuns. Noticing that her bloomers have fallen around her ankles, the prince laughs and taunts her. Eventually seeing the funny side of it, the young lady returns his flirting glances, much to the shock of her protectors. The prince later conspires to meet her again by starting a fire in the convent (!), and 'rescues' her for an intimate dinner at the palace where Swanson is memorably framed by the burning flames of a roaring fire as Bryon devours and undresses her with his eyes.

The film exudes raw sexuality in almost every scene, concentrating on the hypocritical schizm between desire and propriety. Though romance and love seem to be in question, and Bryon makes an impassioned plea for his love for the young girl, there are few wholesome emotions on view here. From (literally) fire-fuelled lust and arrogant recklessness to enraged passion and sexual jealousy, the film teems with vileness. The world of the noble classes is opulent and packed with beautiful visual detail in typical Von Stroheim fashion, but is empty and evil in a way which makes all that follows an ever-darker descent into the nether regions of human degradation, climaxing with an extraordinary confrontation between Swanson and Owen where the Queen literally horse-whips her rival and drives her from the palace. In the version of the film released in 1931, it ends shortly after with Swanson throwing herself into the river and drowning, a fittingly melodramatic and damning end to a damned affair.

However, this was, as mentioned, merely the first act in a much longer and more layered study of the process of self-discovery and self-realisation, and intertitles explain that rather than perishing here, the girl is rescued and embarks on a wholly different adventure which takes her to German East Africa where her dying aunt runs a brothel. The story takes an increasingly bizarre turn as the old lady forces the girl into marriage with a loathsome, lecherous, beast of a man (played with festering glee by Tully Marshall). The restored footage (discovered in the 1960s) climaxes with an even more literal and disturbing rendition of the marriage/death scene from Greed, where literally over the dying body of her aunt, Swanson is married to Marshall, who is photographed to appear like a huge, white spider (an impression aided by the fact that he moves on wooden crutches and creeps like a predator sneaking up on prey) with soulless eyes and a body which seems to be decaying from inside, only gradually reaching the visible extremities as we meet him. Unfortunately, the footage ends at this point, and only scattered stills and intertitles briefly summarise what seems to have been a variant on the Marquis de Sade's Justine, where only by acknowledging and embracing one's basest nature can you rise and triumph over your enemies. Alas, without the benefit of the actual film to discuss, we can't really judge how successful a moral message this might have been.

As is, Queen Kelly is never less than fascinating. Von Stroheim's characteristic concerns are present, as is his penchant for grotesquerie and his explicit contempt for society, hypocrisy, and repression. It is wonderfully photographed by Gordon Pollock and Paul Ivano to enhance the richly venal world in which it is set. The original score by Adolph Tandler becomes repetitive, but this is as much because it has been added to the later sequences following its (re)discovery, and it, one presumes, like the film, is incomplete. It is certainly well worth seeing, though any conclusions as to its overall qualities are obviously tentative, as is any judgment of its potential contribution either to cinema on the whole, or a moral, parablistic cinema in particular.


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)


My favorite Von Stroheim bio says the thing that killed this film is that it was begun smack in the middle of the industry-wide transition to sound. Swanson hired Von Stroheim for her independent producing company because she thought him the greatest director working at the time. The work continued on the film for a period under this condition: Behind the scenes, and unbeknownst to Von Stroheim, financier Joseph Kennedy and Gloria Swanson, concerned about the state of the market into which this film would be released eventually, started discussing ways to bail out the project vis a vis sound vs. silent film. They discussed adding a sound track, basically a music and effects track, after the fact; one plan was to film and insert some singing sequences to a basically silent film as The Jazz Singer had. In the end, it is supposedly Kennedy who nixed the whole thing saying no use throwing good money after bad.

Von Stroheim was troubled by this turn of events, but he didn't hate Swanson over it. Still, he did not see her or speak to her for another 21 years, and then only during the filming of Sunset Boulevard. (He despised this, probably his most high profile film role: "That damned butler role" he supposedly called it to the end of his days. He saw it as a crude burlesque, for an ignorant new generation, of a great silent director-- who just happened to be none other than Erich Von Stroheim.)

Queen Kelly shows modern viewers just how sophisticated the last silent films were visually. It is astonishing the fluid, second-nature communication that took place entirely without words. Title cards had become largely superfluous, a throwback to an earlier style of storytelling. And sound, rather than, as has so often been declared, selling out the developments in silent films, seems a natural outgrowth of these last silent years.


This is Director Eric Von Stroheim's last film, produced by it's star, Gloria Swanson. There is much to be learned from the commentaries and additional features on the deluxe Kino DVD of this silent film. The film itself is a wonderful lesson in film-making of its period. Von Stroheim loved to take shots of all the props and costume details of a character – believing that this focus on detail told you more about the character than the actor alone could convey. This technique was later perfected by Hitchcock, where details shots are followed by reaction shots to move the story and emotional life along.

QUEEN KELLY is the story of a convent girl who falls in love with a dissipated prince who is promised to a debauched Queen. By today's standard, Seena Owen's performance as the queen is laughably over the top; she slithers and glowers and when she's really angry, she seems to have something stuck in her eye. Swanson herself was the prototype of today's tiny body, big head build favored in television. In her long shots her build looks almost like a pygmy, especially in comparison to Owen. But Swanson has that riveting face, and remains really a fine actress. The interview sections done as introductions to a television viewing of QUEEN KELLY show her to have retained those gorgeous and expressive eyes. This was considered her last film as a real ingénue - she was a bit long in the tooth to be playing a convent girl - but that was the style, bless them.

The original story was only about 1/3 completed when the production went way over budget and delved into areas that would never be approved by censors. Arguably, given Seena Owen's almost 100% nude (wearing either chiffon negligee, or a strategically held cat) performance, most of it may not have passed censors.

The restoration makes much ado of finding reels from the abandoned "African brothel" sequences, but when all is said and done, the "Swanson Ending" (the only way it was shown – after talkies had come in and silents were pretty much a done thing) is a very serviceable and good ending… evoking Shakespearian tragedy. Most silents were big on action, short on story, with fairly simple plots. Granted the original was supposed to have a happy, if rather suspicious, happy ending, but this makes total sense, and makes Queen Kelly seem very complete.

The only real loss of the Swanson ending is losing the believably sick (in both senses of the word) performance of Tully Marshall. Between Owen and Marshall, it is a lesson in why the production "code of decency" was developed in the first place. The irony is that, as much as she may have been considered heavy handed or intrusive for firing Von Stoheim, Swanson's ending demonstrates that Swanson really did know what she was doing as a producer. A memorable and informative trip into film history.

If you're not interested in film history or silent film, skip it.


Erich von Stroheim's infamous final stab at direction (unfinished, when the plug was pulled by producer and star Gloria Swanson) is a sophisticated piece of silent cinema, wrapped in a camp plot and looking fabulous.

Gloria Swanson plays Patricia Kelly, a convent girl who meets the Prince of her dreams ('wild' Wolfram, played by Walter Byron) while she is out with the nuns. After a risqué scene concerning the soldiers and her bloomers, Gloria prays to the Holy Virgin to let her see the Prince again, while the Prince feels trapped in his engagement to the mad Queen Regina (a scene-chewing Seena Owen).

The first half of the film concerns how 'Kelly' and Wolfram come to meet up again, this time in the Palace where the jealous Queen loses no time in whipping Kelly out of doors and roaring that the Prince is 'Mine, MINE, MINE!'. The second half (unfinished) concerns Kelly's fortunes thereafter, called by her dying aunt to Africa where she finds herself in a brothel and betrothed to loathsome cripple drunk Jan Vryheid (a repellent and compelling performance from Tully Marshall), and eventually (and improbably) turns the situation round to get her happy ending, 'Queen Kelly' again.

Gloria Swanson looks absolutely gorgeous in the shimmering black and white close-ups, and her acting as Kelly is impeccable throughout - no one made better use of the 'look of horror' or the 'dipping of eyelashes' or the 'flirty smile'. Walter Byron is a moustachioed hero in the mould of John Gilbert and is an amusing second lead.

With the gaps plugged by wordy slides (in some prints, Kelly becomes Kitty in these explanatory bits, but never mind ...) and still photographs, 'Queen Kelly' is a boisterous and worthy final feature for its director. Many have seen a small bit of this film as part of Norma Desmond's home projections in 'Sunset Boulevard', but try to see the full thing - hugely enjoyable, and if not as mushily romantic as 'The Wedding March', its satirical splendor more than makes up for it!


There is no denying that Erich Von Stroheim was one of Hollywood's greatest directors, and not only for the silent film period that he worked in. His best films transcend that. But in watching what is left of QUEEN KELLY one understands why he drove producers crazy and destroyed his directorial career.

I had seen parts of the film before tonight. In SUNSET BOULEVARD Gloria Swanson is watching one of "Norma Desmond's" old films with William Holden, and it is the convent chapel sequence from this film. Then, in the 1980s, the series about Hollywood in the silent period narrated by James Mason showed (in an episode about Von Stroheim) the sequence when Queen Regina (Seena Owen) whips Kelly through her palace as punishment for romancing (possibly sleeping with) Prince Wolfram (Walter Byron). The most memorable bits of that sequence are the laughing faces of some of the palace guards enjoying the "catfight".

But now I saw the film as it now survives (thanks to the restoration firm KINO), and while I marvel at the flow of the activities in his scenes, I am fully aware why Von Stroheim destroyed himself. Every sequence goes on too long. Yes they are marvels to watch, and if the film were say five or six films of twenty minutes to half an hour each they'd be perfect. But no matter how the actions flow into each other, the viewer accustomed to the telescoping of events in most films soon tires of it.

Take the fire in the convent. Byron and his adjutant climb a ladder at night to get into the convent, but they realize that they don't know Swanson's room. Seeing a fire alarm, Byron shows his adjutant they can start a small, smoky fire and force everyone out (and then catch Swanson). This ought to take about one or two minutes of the film. Instead it takes fully five or six. There is no reason for this.

The tryst at the palace of Wolfram and Kelly takes nearly twenty five minutes - and that does not count the business of Queen Regina discovering them and taking revenge on both. In the course of the tryst sequence, we learn of how the wine tastes to Kelly (not bad, considering this is a silent film), we learn that she has two postcards with Wolfram's likeness on them, and that most girls in the country have his image under their pillows, that she belatedly discovers how she is not wearing her dress but her nightgown (Wolfram has put her dress away). She and Byron work well together, and she does have a kind of naive charm (note her looking for the missing dress behind the couch, with her tilting herself over the couch's back to do it). The couple do discover they love each other - partly in the room in the palace, and partly on the palace's balcony (oddly enough the moon in the background looks fake - possibly Joe Kennedy managed to put his foot down on expenses there). They end up in his bedroom. This whole sequence could have been squeezed into eight minutes tops - it's half an hour!

Another defect is the second half, where Kelly goes to Dar es Salaam as the heiress of a successful brothel owner. Fascinating in the characters of the dying aunt, Jan Vryheid (Tully Marshall in a colorful degenerate type - Tully's enjoying himself, but playing it well), and the prostitutes and black clergyman. But the sequences leading to her marriage to Marshall last for forty minutes. They could have been done in fifteen. Moreover, the connection is weak - suddenly a humiliated and suicidal Kelly gets a second chance by going to Africa. That's hardly realistic. Von Stroheim was building to a change in Kelly in the portion of the film that was never shot - she was to harden into a smart businesswoman like her aunt, and to be able to rejoin Byron as an equal. But the plot devices are so odd they just don't work too well.

In short - a curious, and truthfully fun film to watch, but not the classic that Von Stroheim thought it would be. It's an eight for it's individual strengths, not for the entire overshot, incomplete picture that it is.


OK, there are fragments of genius in what remains of this film, but the fact is, "Queen Kelly" is unavailable in it's entirety. It can't really be given high marks because much of the film is a reconstruction, and not the actual, intended print. And, even if "Queen Kelly" did survive, is it a lost masterpiece? I'm not so sure.

Von Stroheim was ultimately a brilliant, frustrating director. He is known today for a talent that was ahead of a time, and a decadent, simply unviable approach to film-making that is impossible in any decade or century. "Kelly" is a prime example. The material really isn't up to scratch in the first place, and although Swanson was a good and effective actress, she simply did not have the image of a convent girl, and is quite unbelievable in the role. Swanson famously had Von Stroheim fired as director, saying he was a "mad man". Von Stroheim's decadence on the "Kelly" set involved his usual reels and reels of unused footage, fussy, brilliant camera-work and uncommon demands on his actors. He made Seena Owen walk around literally naked with nothing but a cat covering her privates! And the cat started to scratch poor Owen as it did not like to be handled.

So what are we left with? Well, whether or not you see either the reconstruction on the Kino DVD or the version with the "Swanson ending" (sort of Shakespeare-lite), the film is marked with genius but its just impossible to fully criticise. Some scenes are truly masterful, such as the gorgeous, gorgeous shot Stroheim got of the convent girls walking in the sunlight (apparently ridiculously hard to set up), as are the lush, decadent palace scenes with Owen. But "Kelly" has many faults, and it really isn't what we would call a "classic".


Having finally seen this picture (famously used to provide Norma Desmond's 'home movie' sequence in "Sunset Boulevard"), I have to say I'm not at all surprised that von Stroheim was sacked from filming. I'm no fan of his "Greed", and this displays all the same faults: over-lengthy scenes composed of over-lengthy shots, a sadistic pleasure in grotesquerie, wild-eyed acting from the principals, and a budget-breaking obsession with set-dressing and minutiae. But the worst problem with "Queen Kelly" is the jaw-droppingly unconvincing plot, for which von Stroheim himself must apparently take full credit. It's not only lurid, but beggars belief: the principals are written as so cardboard that I found their romance completely without sympathy and in fact found myself more on the side of the 'mad' queen.

The scene in which they meet (her knickers fall down!-- oh, so funny!) is supposed, I think, to be a case of the feisty Irish colleen enchanting the dissolute nobleman with her spirited rebuff while falling in love with his good looks. If this sounds like something from a Mills & Boon novel... in practice, it's rather less romantic. Or believable.

This has to be the only film I've seen where the hero breaks into a convent, sets a fire to create a diversion, and kidnaps the heroine before taking away her clothes -- and yet we're expected to cheer him on during the process. Isn't this more usually a villain's role? Then the virginal heroine goes to live in an African brothel; not out of any white-slave abduction, but simply because the business is in the family, apparently. Meanwhile the alleged hero is quickly packed off out of the story, with a perfunctory gesture at plot explanation...

But it's not just that I found the story both unattractive and unconvincing. Stroheim seems to have operated on the principle that more was better in every sphere: more emoting, more make-up, more extras, longer takes. Apparently his departure from MGM had failed to deliver a short, sharp shock of reality. As a result, "Queen Kelly" is verging on ludicrous: Swanson was desperate to release it in order to recoup at least some of the money devoured by the production costs, but I'm not sure that wider exposure of the result would have done her reputation either as leading lady or producer any good.

Meanwhile, the film's 'suppressed' status has done wonders for von Stroheim's myth: once it's finally dragged out into the light of day, it proves a rather tawdry abortion of a piece, and no credit to its maverick director. My chief reaction, leaving the cinema, was to feel that the film's original fate had been richly deserved: now we know just why Gloria Swanson felt impelled to take such drastic action.


Queen Kelly (1929)

*** (out of 4)

I think it's safe to say that von Stroheim's directing career was over when Gloria Swanson threw him a bone to direct this picture, which was originally intended to be a five-hour epic. Soon, as was always the case with the director, the thing was way over budget, he was fired and the film was never completed, although a few years later Swanson went back and filmed an alternate ending, which is included on the DVD. The film, as presented on the DVD, runs around 100-minutes and I'd say about ten-minutes are made up from stills and title cards explaining the missing footage.

The film tells the story of Kitty Kelly (Swanson), a convent girl who gets swept off her feet by Prince Wolfram (Walter Byron) but she does know that he's set to marry Queen Regina (Seena Owen) the following day. Kelly runs away in shame and finds herself in South Africa where her dying aunt turns over her brothel, which Kelly will now run. The love at first site plot isn't the most original out there but von Stroheim adds enough weirdness that makes this film worth sitting through. You can tell that this was meant to be an epic because of the 90-minutes worth of footage the first seventy-minutes are pretty much dealing with the love story. I'm guessing Kelly's rise in the brothel was originally meant to be much longer than what's shown here but I guess we'll never know as the footage is long gone and what stills are available really don't tell us too much. There are many flaws in this film but for the most part I found it very enjoyable. I thought the opening fifteen-minutes were a tad bit stiff but things really start to heat up around the thirty-minute mark. The sadistic side of von Stroheim comes through when the Queen learns that her man has been unfaithful and the whipping sequence she puts on Kelly is marvelously done and is without question one of the most beautiful shots in the director's career. You can also easily see where the budget went and the incredibly banquet scene is just a real beauty on the eyes. Swanson turns in a very good performance as she perfectly captures the spirit of the young, naive girl, although at the same time she's way too old for the part. I thought she handled the role very nicely but we never really get to see her as the brothel queen. Both Byron and especially Owen eat up their scenes and help keep the film moving. As is, QUEEN KELLY is certainly flawed but it's hard to judge the film too much simply because most of it is incomplete. The "Swanson" ending that's included on the DVD really doesn't work either so in the end we're just left with a "what if..." situation.


The restored version of "Queen Kelly' shown on TCM recently was a revelation to those of us who only knew Gloria Swanson from "Sunset Boulevard" in the '50's. Swanson in 1928 had incredibly large and luminous (?green?) eyes, as well as that curiously angular lower jaw still evident in "Boulevard". She seemed fairly tall and almost husky in "Kelly", compared to many women (and men) of the 20's to the 50's who were physically quite small, and looked it in their screen roles. She was lovely in a unique way.

More importantly, I thought Swanson was GREAT in the part. What an incredible range of facial and body expressiveness! Given the restrictions of the plot, and doubtless a domineering director, Swanson did a tremendous job in making her character seem believable. Yes, perhaps she did look older than 18, but in my opinion, she could pass for 21 or so. She certainly didn't look older than her 31 years, as another reviewer opines. Perhaps her sheer acting skill and range of motion were convincing enough to play 10 years younger than her true age. It's done all the time on the stage and screen, why wouldn't it be acceptable in this 1928 film?

I found Walter Byron gorgeous, and strangely modern in his good looks. Not of the now-hackneyed strong-profile leading man variety popular in early films. Instead, he was impeccably groomed and costumed, with short, straight, slicked-back hair. A beautiful sight to behold. He did a very good job within the constraints of silent acting. I'll be looking for more of his work.

The Jan VanHeidt character was almost too-disgusting to be credible, but archetypes were more pronounced in the silent genre. The actor did a very credible job, doubtless under the director's specific instructions about how to convey his debauched and depraved condition.

Perhaps it's because so much of the film was lost and/or cut, but Kelly's acquiescence to marrying the dissolute Jan seemed inexplicable to me. Von Stoheim went to a lot of trouble to give Swanson a L-O-N-G flashback while the wedding ceremony was being read which included the Prince's admonition to Kelly not to "forget him", "forsake him", or words to that effect. Yet she says yes anyway. You have to make a lot of assumptions about Kelly's character and personality to justify her decision, and rationalize in your own mind why on earth she didn't manifest some gumption and say after due consternation and anguish, "No, No, Never!".

This is a technically beautiful film. The lighting, sets, costumes, etc. are wonderful! Well worth seeing, even with the missing film and downbeat ending.


One of the most mythic productions in Hollywood history, the story behind Queen Kelly has left a legacy that still, even today, intrigues film historians. For many, it could well be the most famous incomplete film of all time. A lavish romantic epic planned to weigh in at thirty reels (approximately five hours) that would be financed by the father of a future US President (Joseph Kennedy), directed by one the greatest auteurs of his age (Erich von Stroheim) and provide a definitive showcase vehicle for it's ambitious producer/star Gloria Swanson. Yet such was the acrimony and furore surrounding the films collapse, Kennedy reeled away from the industry never to return, von Stroheim (tragically) never directed a major Hollywood production and Swanson's star soon began to fade. Or should that be, her "pictures got small"!

Indeed! Such is the fascination of Queen Kelly that Billy Wilder used it in his own merciless critique of the film industry, Sunset Boulevard. Yep. That's right. The film that Norma Desmond (Swanson) and her butler Max (von Stroheim) watch in her decaying mansion... That's Queen Kelly! Now that is what I call satire!!!

However, from amidst the wreckage of incomplete scenes and a Shakespearean alternative ending (After von Stroheim was removed, Swanson employed future Citizen Kane Gregg Toland cinematographer to tack on a semblance of a denouement in order to at least salvage something that could be released - a futile effort as von Stroheim owned the rights to the screenplay and blocked it) emerges around 100 minutes of luscious, decadent cinema that, at times, approaches something close to genius.

The story is pure romantic melodrama. A love triangle between a handsome but sexually voracious young Prince (lustily played by Walter Byron) , a jealous and insane Queen (outrageously played Seema Owen) and a young, orphaned convent girl, Kelly (Gloria Swanson, herself). The Prince and the Queen he loathes are due to wed, yet both her status and his fear of her violent fits of pique holds him reluctantly to her... Although it doesn't stop his drunken dalliances with the local prostitutes! Yet, whilst out with his cavalry on parade he meets Kelly and they fall in love at first sight. He whisks her away from her convent and brings her to his luxurious rooms at the palace and woos her. However, the Queen walks into the room at the moment of consummation and explodes with rage. She puts the Prince under house arrest before driving Kelly out of the palace whilst flogging her with a riding crop! Bereft, Kelly leaps from a tower into a river below.

This is where the story breaks asunder. Swanson's abrupt, enforced close see's the Prince freed only to arrive at the convent to find Kelly drowned. In his despair, he kills himself in front of her plinth. Von Stroheim's vision embraced Kelly being rescued, joining her dying Aunt in the German East Indies to run a brothel and being forced into marriage to a sleazy, lecherous pimp (Tully Marshall)... Only for her Prince to track her down years later. Not that it got that far!

It was the gruesome, deeply disturbing wedding sequence that finally brought Queen Kelly crashing to a halt. No more footage remains after this point. Already containing enough material to give the censors a heart attack (Seema Owen is virtually naked throughout the film and the Prince's sexual forays are barely disguised), von Stroheim's perverse change of direction and attention to almost squalid detail finally convinced Swanson that her project would never, ever pass the censors of the day. With costs spiralling, she called her financiers and von Stroheim was removed.

What now remains is the fascinating, lusty and wildly decadent corpse of a decaying, subversive fairy tale. A bizarre cinematic cross between Hans Christian Anderson and The Marquis de Sade! The directors attention to detail and elegant, regal sets seem almost at odds with the lurid (almost ludicrous) potboiler storyline and the wildly hedonistic performances from not only Owen and Marshall but also of the actors within the Queens court and from Rae Daggett as a prostitute called Coughdrops. Yet, somehow, Queen Kelly enchants. Bewitches. There's a real sultriness running throughout and a distinctly European sense of liberal humour that anticipates the films of Joseph Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich a couple of years later. Most of all though, Swanson's performance is fabulous. A real breathing counterpoint to camp excesses around her. Her terror at the wedding sequence is absolutely striking, as is the fear and subsequent heartbreak as she is discovered in the bed of her already betrothed paramour. Similarly, her moments of supposed penance in which she kneels at the alter of the chapel instead prays for another moment with the Prince is electric. What is most admirable of all, however, is her ability to find at a sexual knowingness beneath her genuine innocence.

Is Queen Kelly a lost masterpiece? I'd say it just falls short. Just. Whether a completed version would have been will be forever open to debate. What von Stroheim and Swanson do deliver is wild, vivid, fantastical, lusty melodrama that is uneven, excessive and yet strangely compulsive.


In an ancient European kingdom, sultry Seena Owen (as Queen Regina V) lounges, awaiting her nuptials with dashing Walter Byron (as Prince Wolfram). Nearby, convent girl Gloria Swanson (as Patricia Kelly) encourages the Lord's wrath by sleeping with her photographs of the handsome Mr. Byron. While he is out riding one day, Ms. Swanson gets a chance to meet the idolized Prince, and embarrassingly loses her knickers! For Swanson and Byron, it's love at first sight. But, how can a simple convent girl get the Queen's stud?

Director Erich von Stroheim and actress Gloria Swanson, with their skills in full tilt excess, are a joy to behold. Yet, "Queen Kelly" emerges as a fairly strong film, despite its self-indulgence. Once considered a hopelessly unfinished work; the film has been restored, with great integrity, through intertitles, stills, and imagination. There is no doubt Swanson would have played the final reels expertly; but, there is no way to tell if Stroheim and Swanson would have re-shot some of her opening footage. Few convent girls looked as gorgeous as Gloria Swanson, with her amplified eyelashes. Though she isn't the first (or last) Hollywood convent inhabitant to look so ravishing, it would have been wise to tone down the look, until later in the film.

Flaws notwithstanding, "Queen Kelly" is full of great stuff. Tobacco-stained Tully Marshall (as Jan Vryheid) and whip-wielding Ms. Owen are delightfully outrageous. Byron, pocketing her knickers, is a thoroughly charming partner for Swanson. Stroheim, and photographers Gordon Pollock and Paul Ivano, are outstanding; a simple scene of Swanson praying, with candles dripping around her, is beautiful.

Ah, they had faces then…


"Queen Kelly" was initially an epic undertaking by star Gloria Swanson and director Eric von Stroheim. Stroheim's view of the project would have ended in a five hour movie. Swanson when seeing what he had planned for the brothel sequences , had him fired. This was poor old Eric's last directoral effort due mainly to his habit in using up tons of film stock. The film was never completed, however the story was concluded through the use of stills and title cards explaining what happened to the characters post Stroheim.

What we have left is a love story or if you will, a lover's triangle. Prince Wolfram (Walter Byron) is a womanizing, party loving prince who is engaged to the cold Queen Regina V (Seena Owen) of a small mythical European country. Wolfram tries to delay his forthcoming marriage. The Queen punishes Wolfram for his dalliances by assigning him to drill duty in the hot summer sun.

While on manoeuvers, Wolfram comes upon a group of students from a nearby convent. Among them, in an inspired bit of casting, is young Patricia Kelly (Swanson) to whom Wolfram becomes attracted. She too is attracted to the dashing prince. Later that night Wolfram sneaks into the convent and makes off with Kelly. He takes her to his apartment within the Queen's castle, and sparks fly.

The next morning, Queen Regina catches the prince and the young Kelly in bed together. She blow her top. She horse whips the young girl in a brutally realistic scene. The Queen ultimately imprisons Wolfram for refusing to marry her. Meanwhile Kelly receives a letter from her aunt (Sylvia Ashton) requesting her presence in East Africa where she lays dying.

When she arrives in Africa, Kelly learns that her aunt has been operating a brothel and that she has promised her to the dirty old man Jan Vryheid (who else but Tully Marshall). The wedding proceeds and the aunt dies. This is where Stroheim's footage ends. As I pointed out earlier, stills and title cards finish the story, informing us what happened to the characters later including how Kelly became Queen Kelly.


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.


Uh, oh! I just said the this "classic" film has a plot that STINKS! Well, it's true,...so get over it! This film was a vanity project for Joseph P. Kennedy in which his mistress starred and money flowed to make her an even bigger star. Today, only a fragmentary copy exists--one that was retored a few years back. However, even if the film had been in perfect shape, it STILL would have stunk for many reasons. And, without further ado, here are some of my reasons:

First, Gloria Swanson, aged 31 plays a girl in a convent school--perhaps aged 16 or 18! Come on--she looks old enough to be the mother of many of the kids.

Second, the movie all hinges on the stupid concept of "love at first sight". While some people believe it this, it is ridiculous to believe that a prince would throw away EVERYTHING on a woman he didn't even know! What a lot of hooey!

Third, the movie is histrionic and the plot is nuts! After leaving the school, Kelly goes off to East Africa and then becomes "Queen of the Whores"--and later, after the evil queen back in Europe dies (that's convenient), the prince is able to get out of prison, actually finds Kelly and marries her and she then becomes queen of a real honest-to-goodness country! Gimme a break--this is RIDICULOUS, even in the days of silent film this plot was a groaner!

So, in summary, this is a poor film with great production values (mistresses need to LOOK good) that is parading around as a classic! There are so many BETTER silent films out there--see them first and avoid this tripe.


In Kronberg, capital of an old State of Central Europe ,a mad queen dominates a feudal kingdom of a violent dynasty. Queen V is vain, intolerant, cruel; she knows no laws but only her wishes. She has a morbid passion for her boyfriend, Prince Wolfram, who has made one of his rare escapades with a woman he does not love. The queen wants to surprise her boyfriend and orders him to move away to train the army. On the way known among the orphans who walk Patricia Kelly. The queen wants to surprise her boyfriend and orders him to move away to train the army. On the way known among the orphans walking Patricia Kelly, who lost her underwear. The prince points this out to everyone who laughs at it .Afterwards, in the convent, Patricia Kelly is subjected to a sort of trial, where she defends herself by saying that her underwear has fallen out of emotion and asks the reverend mother that she would have done it if that happened, making everyone laugh. A strong provocation against moral and religious bigotry that have no basis and that, as in the movie, make you laugh in relation to the truth of experiencing pleasure without rancor because physical pleasure completes the spirit. For punishment Patricia Kelly can not go out for a month and that night she goes to bed without eating to stay on your knees before the cross to pray to be far from earthly thoughts. When she is alone in front of the sacred images, Patricia prays to see the prince again. The surprise of Queen V is the announcement that the wedding will be the following day. The prince wants to see Kelly again and with an accomplice enters the convent and causes a fire, causing all the nuns and the orphans to wake up. In the general chaotic movement, the prince sees her and takes her in her arms. The prince takes her to the palace of the queen and tells her that she tried to set the convent on fire to see her again. He is convinced that this was a great idea and that he was clever. Patricia laughs at all this and thinks what the reverend mother could say. After they eat together and in front of a mirror, which doubles the image, the prince kisses Kelly, who is in a nightgown with the Prince 's coat on. They continue to flirt in a flowered veranda in the moonlight. The queen finds them in bed and with a club tries to hit them but the prince defends him and Kelly. The queen talks about marriage and Kelly walks away crying followed by the queen who repeatedly beats her up to the exit while a guard mocks her. Kelly sees the guard who mocks her and then the prince in superimposition on the water. Kelly throws herself into the water and arrives the prince who follows her. The queen tells the prince that if he does not accept the marriage with her, he will be sent to prison.The prince goes to see Kelly in the convent and finds her dead. He draws the sword to kill himself. Thus the prince emerges from narcissism and self-centeredness to open himself to his beloved. As in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" the lovers die but the dramaturgical engine is not revenge like in Shakespeare but it is the search for true love.


Gloria Swanson upstages the other players, but ... is herself upstaged by either Seena Owen's dignity, or nakedness; and the movie belongs to the mellower, nowadays less famous actress, though much of the storyline is given to the cretin horseman, and in a way, for her primacy we should acknowledge the director's craft. The actress playing the orphan Kelly had half of what her character supposed.

The scenes with Seena Owen are healthily arousing, notwithstanding the director's delusions of implied decadence. What Stroheim does is to honor her sexuality, though there's not the contrast intended, because the orphan girl doesn't look so girlish, as she's not helpless either, and if the actress gives a dependable, good performance, it doesn't convince as a brat who is temperamental, but still in need of being awakened; she makes a reasonably good role, but not the one in the plot. The plot is very simple, with the supporting characters being there as needed, but somewhat underused, as the whole Ruritanian world is concomitantly lavishly depicted and merely sketched, hinted to.

Until the debauched horseman's evening visit to the convent, the movie is a funny, light comedy.

So, four things: the movie honors the famous actress Seena Owen, which is shown as well as implied by the director. He doesn't seem to hold this intent determinedly enough; he also appears to have decided for the wrong glamorizing of Seena Owen's sexuality (as already announced by the card about her character being the heiress of her ancestors' wickedness). The plot may be too simple, for the lavish values and underused supporting cast. The orphan Irish girl was good for another storyline.

The movie is like a lavish and sleazy operetta, joyous when needed; the director would have deemed it colossal and decadent. In its lavishness, it resembles a sketchbook.


If this movie had been finished as it had been started, I would probably score it close to a 10 and not a 5. Unfortunately, Von Stroheim only got about one third of the footage shot before Gloria Swanson and Joseph Kennedy pulled the plug on the production. But what he filmed is luminously beautiful and over-the-top opulent. It's really a delightful treatment of a hackneyed theme... star-crossed lovers and the suffering their forbidden love imposes upon them.

Fortunately, Von Stroheim doesn't veer off much into some of the hyper-exaggerated overacting that mars some of his other movies. The later scenes where Kelly is in Africa do have a good bit of that, especially in the case of Jan, to whom Kelly is married in a shotgun wedding thanks to the emotional blackmail of her decrepit, crazy aunt. Von Stroheim has Jan lay it on so thick the whole thing nearly crashes to the ground, but his character's intrusion in this mangled masterpiece is mercifully brief.


Prince Wolfram (Walter Byron) falls in love with the convent girl Kitty Kelly (Gloria Swanson) when her underpants accidentally fall down.The problem in that relationship is that the Prince is doomed to marry the mad Queen Regina V (Seena Owen).Erich von Stroheim's Queen Kelly (1929) had some problems to be approved by censors.It may be harder to understand by modern viewers.Gloria Swanson makes this movie truly memorable.Gloria with her lovely dark hair and the seducing looks is really amazing.Byron and Owen and the other actors do also good work.This may not be silent movie at best but there is a lot of good in this feature.I must admit I'm a bigger fan of silent comedies but there's nothing wrong with a silent melodrama every now and then.Queen Kelly may not offer any laughs but other kind of feelings it does arouse.


And, if you thought that William Randolph Hearst was a total sucker for financing the over-bloated movie-vehicles for his mistress, Marion Davies - Well - They were nothing compared to the high-priced junk that Joseph Kennedy (father of John F. Kennedy) financed for his vain, demanding, Hollywood sweetheart, Gloria Swanson.

1929's, silent-era clunker, Queen Kelly (whose budget was $800,000) was a perfect example of the sh*t that opportunist/actress, Gloria Swanson convinced Kennedy to seek financial backing for, so, in turn, she could show to the world her star-power greatness.

With Queen Kelly's storyline aside - I think it's interesting to note that this lavish production ruined the directing career of the flamboyantly excessive, Erich Von Stroheim.

I think it's also worthwhile to note that Queen Kelly was never released in American (nor Canadian) theatres. And, it wasn't until the 1960s (when aired on TV) that North American audiences finally got to see it for the first time.

Believe me, other than some outrageously extravagant sets and costumes, Queen Kelly was pure movie-junk with Gloria Swanson (30 at the time) unconvincingly playing a part clearly meant for an actress at least 10 years her junior.


I have seen this movie twice - one being yesterday. Gloria Swanson's character's name in the film is Patricia Kelly NOT Kitty Kelly. Kitty Kelly is that woman who writes unauthorized biographies. I hope this helps.

Its an odd movie, I agree - the ending does not fit the build up we get for the couple during the entire film. It has a light hearted beginning and takes a hairpin turn to melodrama. The Prince is a wimp. It appears to me that Patricia is the stronger of the two. She is the one who is willing to take a turn from the norm and risk it all for love - Catholic orphan raised by nuns ready to give it all up for the man she loves, wimp that he is. It shows that if you are royalty, believe you are right, intimidate the poor, you can get anything you want without any retribution. The innocent still suffer and all is right with the world.

Thank you very much for allowing me to comment.