There’s alot of interest surrounding this film so I thought I would talk about it. When I first saw Sunset Boulevard I noticed the silent film clip that was shown by Norma Desmond. I went online and searched for the film and found that it was a notorious film among silent film fans. So I rented it and it started my interest in Gloria Swanson and silent film for that matter.
Queen Kelly was the biggest failure of Gloria Swanson’s film career. At this point she was producing her own films since she moved to United Artists after turning down Paramount with their $25,000 a week offer. She wanted to be able to choose her directors and material and so forth and seemed like a wise decision. Her first film out on her own The Loves of Sunya wasn’t a hit but she made up for it with the film Sadie Thompson, my personal favorite, even earning her an Oscar nomination.
Queen Kelly was next. Around this time Gloria was having an affair with Joesph Kennedy. They both started working together in the film industry and wanted a vehicle to collaborate on. They were both intrigued by a brillant director, Erich Von Stroheim. His most famous films include Greed and The Wedding March. So, they met with him and he thought it would be a great idea. He had a story already in mind called The Swamp. Gloria and Joe were both intrigued by the story and went right ahead with it.
Filming began in November of 1928. The title The Swamp was changed to Queen Kelly since The Swamp wasn’t a very appealing name. Von Stroheim was a perfectionist. He would shoot and reshoot and shoot and reshoot scene until they were to his liking, often going over budget and over time. For scenes he would use real furs, real pearls, real caviar. It all had to be real. Gloria was concerned about the money he was spending but Joseph Kennedy didn’t seem to say anything about it so she just shrugged it off and thought he was trying to be like the great Cecil B DeMille. Filming continued through December and January. Filming was going very slow due to how meticulous Von Stroheim was. Gloria became concerned it wouldn’t finish in time. When Gloria reported to set one day she noticed that the script said that the current scene was to be taken at a dance hall. Well, when she arrived she noticed it was more like a brothel. Since Von Stroheim is notorious for doing his own thing, they actually hired two people just to watch him and keep him on track, obviously they weren’t there that day. This particular morning Von Stroheim was instructing fellow co star Tully Marshall on how to dribble tobacco juice onto Gloria’s hand while he was kissing it. Gloria was disgusted and stormed off the set to her bungalow and called Joesph Kennedy right away telling him this film would not be finished and would end up on the cutting room floor.
Queen Kelly ended up not being finished. Although Gloria did reshoot scenes and make a whole new ending but it never got complete and was not released in the US, but in foreign countries in 1930. It was finally released in 1985 by Kino with film stills in the parts that were missing. Gloria made up for the loss with her next film The Trespasser which was a huge hit. Like I mentioned before a clip of the film was shown in Sunset Boulevard which ironically also co starred Erich Von Stroheim as Max who runs the film for Norma. At the time of Sunset Boulevard they placed their difference aside. All in all I think it is an interesting film and is considered to be one of the best silent films of all time. It had alot to do with my start in silent film and love for Gloria Swanson. Queen Kelly is now available on DVD through Kino.