One of the most audacious in jokes in the history of American movies occurs in Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Boulevard when Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) shows Joe Gillis (William Holden) a silent film being projected by her onetime director-husband and now butler, Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). But the film they are watching, as few viewers then or now would realize, is Queen Kelly, a 1929 production starring Swanson and actually directed by von Stroheim.
In 1928, after years of struggles within the studio system, Erich von Stroheim found the opportunity to create his crowning achievement: a storybook romance of intoxicating beauty, counterbalanced with a frightfully grim tale of moral corruption. Swanson stars as an innocent convent girl who falls under the spell of a handsome prince (Walter Byron) on the eve of his marriage to a diabolical queen (Seena Owen).
Queen Kelly might have been one of von Stroheim’s greatest films had actress/producer Swanson (whose lover Joseph Kennedy was financing the production) not halted it in mid-production. Until now, those mesmerizing glimpses in Sunset Boulevard were the only opportunity for American audiences to see von Stroheim’s lost masterpiece.
Kino Lorber’s critically-acclaimed restoration of von Stroheim’s ambitious epic, which incorporates many of the scenes (set within an African brothel) that caused Swanson to shut down the film, finally allows us to see this amazing work by two of the most legendary figures in silent cinema.
(USA, 1929, 97 min., b/w, 35mm / Director: Erich von Stroheim / Cast: Gloria Swanson, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, Walter Byron)