Queen Kelly, which Erich von Stroheim originally wrote as The Swamp, was the director’s eighth silent picture and was undertaken at the behest of Gloria Swanson. Best guess is that Stroheim’s full scenario would have played for at least five hours’ running time. Film was in production less than three months, from 1 November 1928 to 21 January 1929, when Swanson, finally fed up with her director’s excesses, told financier Joseph Kennedy to shut it down after an expenditure of $800,000.
Since Queen Kelly was shot in sequence, what exists of it plays very smoothly and coherently up through its arbitrary, but dramatically valid, conclusion. Set in the sort of fin-de-siecle Ruritanian principality usually favored by the director, tale presents the mad young Queen Regina (Seena Owen) forcing the playboy Prince Wolfram (Walter Byron) into a royal marriage.
Far from resigned to a life of amorous activity, Wolfram encounters a troup of convent girls while on cavalry drill in the country and, in a legendary scene, meets Kitty Kelly (Gloria Swanson).
As planned by the director, film would have continued ever-deeper into grand melodrama until, coming full circle, Kitty would truly have become Queen Kelly along with Wolfram, displacing Regina on the throne.
Version of the film released minimally in Europe and South America in the early 1930s ended with Kitty successfully committing suicide. Footage of her in a bordello in German East Africa was not discovered until 1963. The music score by Adolph Tandler, which was written for Swanson’s 1931-32 version, was discovered on a nitrate soundtrack for use in this edition. [Version reviewed is a complete-as-possible reconstruction in 1985.]