- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

The DVD edition of “Queen Kelly,” a famously abandoned late silent feature of 1928-29 that starred Gloria Swanson under the wayward direction of Erich von Stroheim, appends a memento that now seems priceless.

It’s a television curio of the early 1960s that anticipates the usefulness of DVD supplements and makes you regret the scarcity of such firsthand recollections when vintage movies are being reconsidered.

Miss Swanson hosted a TV showing of her strangely orphaned production about 30 years after she despaired of salvaging the unfinished “Queen Kelly.”

Historian Richard Koszarski contributes an authoritative commentary track to the DVD. Miss Swanson remains discreetly, bewitchingly evasive about various aspects of the “Queen Kelly” misadventure, but her command of the camera is formidable. At 65 or so, she’s at once enviably dignified and seductive.

Her lounging gown is worthy of the costumes from her heyday as a star of languorous boudoir comedies for Cecil B. DeMille. “Queen Kelly” was made when she was about 30 and had started a production company with Joseph P. Kennedy as her business adviser (and lover).

The film intrigued a later generation of moviegoers when a few images were excerpted in “Sunset Boulevard,” the 1950 classic that brought Miss Swanson out of retirement to portray Norma Desmond. The reverberations from the past were perversely enhanced when director Billy Wilder cast Mr. Stroheim in a supporting role - as Norma’s valet Max, also her former director and spouse.

The images of candlelit portraiture in “Sunset Boulevard” retrieve Miss Swanson’s Patricia Kelly, an orphan residing in a convent, soon after she flirts with a rakish nobleman. She prays for guidance as she longs for a follow-up encounter. It comes in the form of an abduction, which leads to a promising tryst that concludes in shame and humiliation. She is whipped from the castle, and the movie seems to go out of kilter.

Miss Swanson later lost faith in the production, when the plot shifted from a mythical Middle European kingdom to German West Africa. An actor dribbled tobacco juice on Miss Swanson during one take and told her the gesture was suggested by Mr. von Stroheim. She walked off the set and never returned. The director was fired, and the movie entered limbo.

Miss Swanson and her advisers might have anticipated pitfalls from having read the von Stroheim scenario, originally titled “The Swamp,” alluding to the murk of human lust and degeneracy.

TITLE: “Queen Kelly”

RATING: No MPAA rating (Made in 1928, decades before the advent of the film rating system; occasionally lurid or violent episodes)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Erich von Stroheim. Photographed by Paul Ivano and Gordon Pollock. Art direction by Harold Miles. Music by Adolf Tandler. A silent film with intertitles

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes, not counting bonus material

DVD EDITION: Kino Video

WEB SITE: www.kino.com/video

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