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Queen Kelly
(1929)
 

Erich von Stroheim’s final big-budget feature film was never completed, having been halted in midproduction by producers Gloria Swanson and Joseph Kennedy. The film, as shot, represented only the first half of the story. A version of the film was released in Europe to attempt to recoup some of the lost production costs, but it was not released in the United States to save artistic face.

Young Patty Kelly (Gloria Swanson), a convent orphan, meets a queen’s consort (Walter Byron) and is dazzled by his suave manner. But she is soon seduced by his charms and relinquishes her virginity to him after he boldly sneaks her into the royal palace. Discovered by the jealous queen (Seena Owen), Kelly is savagely driven from the palace in shame.

To keep the situation quiet, Kelly is sent to where her aunt is dying in Africa, a scumy brothel that is controlled by a wretched man, Jan Vryheid (Tully Marshall), and the aunt. Manipulated by him, the aunt presses her dying wish on Kelly, that she marry Vryheid. Horrified, Patty guiltily agrees.

The film was left incomplete when von Stroheim’s excesses of expense and — shall we say? — artistic vision became too much for star Swanson and financier Joseph Kennedy. When the production was shut down, less than half of the scenario had been shot.

Swanson attempted to recover some of the expenses when an attempt to salvage the film resulted in a hastily written ending that was directed by Swanson and shot by Gregg Toland. The crippled film was released in Europe with a synchronized Adolf Tandler score in 1932.

No other major cinematic artist of the silent era has had so many of his films altered, cut and left incomplete of their initial visions than Erich von Stroheim. Yet, his surviving work has secured him a place in early film history.

The original scenario prepared by Erich von Stroheim has been published in book form by Scarecrow Press. — Carl Bennett

2003 Kino on Video DVD edition

Queen Kelly (1929), black & white, 101 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K245, UPC 7-38329-02452-9.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 15 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 10 June 2003.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 6 / additional content: 8 / overall: 8.

From the opening frames of Kino’s DVD edition, we were a bit dismayed. In direct comparison to Kino International’s 1989 laserdisc edition of the film, the type of the restoration introduction is coarse and broken as it slightly jitters about, and the image framing is a bit tighter in the opening titles — noticibly on the bottom of the picture. However, when we actually got to the film itself, we were wowed. Not only is the framing slightly more revealing, the video transfer itself is a tremendous improvement over the laserdisc — the former best-available home video edition of the film. The transfer is of high enough quality that, in reevaluating the disc on high-definition equipment, we have elected to raise our original rating of the video quality of this DVD, which renders a detailed, filmlike image with smooth grayscale transitions on HD systems with signal upscaling.

The source material for the video transfer is, of course, the 1985 Kino International restoration version, as prepared by Dennis Doros. The 35mm print is quite clean, only slightly marked with speckling, dust, scratches and other flaws. The DVD transfer features a broad range of graytones and the image detail is far smoother on this new DVD than on the laserdisc, which was contrasty and coarse to a point that we might have assumed that the film had survived in no better quality than was presented there. The DVD edition reveals far more image detail in the film’s shadows, which makes watching and visually deciphering the images in the film far easier for the viewer. The framing is noticibly more open now, with more attention to images and intertitles that were ackwardly cropped in the laserdisc edition. The overall result is a far more pleasant viewing experience. One that respectfully reveals the beauty in the images that von Stroheim directed and that were photographed chiefly by Paul Ivano and Gordon Pollack.

The musical accompaniment is the 1931 music score by Adolf Tandler, here clearly reproduced in 2.0 mono digital sound.

The disc’s supplementary materials include intelligent and informative full-length audio commentary by historian Richard Koszarski, 18 minutes of previously unavailable outtake footage (which almost looks as good as the film itself and gives us slateboard clues as to who shot which scenes), a still photo gallery, Gloria Swanson’s 1932 release ending, a brief section of production documents, a videotape introduction and afterword by Gloria Swanson, original scenario exerpts, a written recollection of the film by Erich von Stroheim, audio interview selections featuring Paul Ivano, William Margulies, Allan Dwan and Billy Wilder, a 1952 Orient-Express television performance by von Stroheim, and a section of von Stroheim footage from Merry-Go-Round (1923).

Owners of the Kino laserdisc edition can purchase this new DVD edition with confidence, knowing that they are upgrading their collections. Enthusiasts that are new to the film can experience the best-available edition of Queen Kelly in this DVD. We highly recommend this disc.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD edition is also available directly from KINO LORBER.
Other silent era ERICH VON STROHEIM films available on home video.

Other silent era GLORIA SWANSON films available on home video.

Erich von Stroheim filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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