The Sunday Intertitle: Mine, all mine!

Seena Owen goes full Daffy Duck on Gloria Swanson in QUEEN KELLY, Erich Von Stroheim’s attempt to milk the absolute mostest out of every moment of melodrama in a misshapen, rollicking saga of innocence versus corruption and madness. It’s absurd, and impossibly drawn-out, but magnificent, even if only as demented trash.

Spectacularly incomplete — after an hour it starts breaking up into still photographs and captions to compensate for scenes lost, never completed or never filmed — Swanson and her producer, Joseph Kennedy, fired Stroheim when he finally went too far, though what would constitute too far for him is open to debate. It’s a ruin of a film — Kennedy evidently decided it was better for the movie to be ruined than himself, though why they didn’t replace EVS with some hack to quickly polish off the narrative is a mystery — at least they would have ended up with something releasable to show for the millions spent. It’s better this way, just as THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS should have a special edition that omits the scenes shot by other hands and paints in Welles’s missing sequences, using captions, stills, script pages and the stray moment glimpsed in the trailer but not in the final movie…

One surprise that shouldn’t have surprised me — the clip that turns up in SUNSET BLVD to illustrate Norma Desmond’s movie career — about the only commercial purpose those months of filming QK ever served — has been falsified, with fresh intertitles added to it —

In SUNSET BLVD, the sentiment expressed may be similar but the text is different — the intertitle puts into young Gloria’s mouth the words “….Cast out this wicked dream which has seized my heart…” Why change it? I think for RESONANCE — Wilder & Brackett’s new line turns the scene into an analog of SUNSET BLVD itself, with Norma’s movie-star madness as the “wicked dream.” Of course, it could be they’d located a variant print of the film with a wacky different set of titles, or it could be that Wilder just didn’t want any dialogue in his film he hadn’t written himself, or the impulse could have been to make QUEEN KELLY seem even more strange, dated and melodramatic than it already is… which would be impossible if you look at it as a whole, but very possible if you look at this one scene, a relatively restrained one by EVS’s fervid standards.

 

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3 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Mine, all mine!”

  1. Queen Kelly even in the form in which it exists seems like a kamikaze movie. Stroheim simply doesn’t care for respectability, or salvaging his career, but simply making a movie that is all about what he is about.

    The final parts in the brothel at Dar-Es-Salaam are especially creepy and skeevy. I must say I like Queen Kelly, Wedding March, and especially The Merry Widow more than Foolish Wives, or even GREED.

    You know, compared to Stroheim, Welles didn’t have it so bad. I mean if you look at all the films he made before he died, the majority of them exist as per he wished (Kane, Macbeth, Othello, Chimes at Midnight, The Trial, The Immortal Story, F For Fake, Filming Othello). In the case of Stroheim, only Blind Husbands exists in a Stroheim cut, and that’s not one of his best. What seems striking to me is not that Stroheim’s films kept being taken away it’s that he got so many chances.

  2. Wilder thought Stroheim was ten years ahead, Stroheim thought twenty, those Swanson showed Queen Kelly to thought it old-fashioned — virginity imperilled, the old-hat Griffith thing. But it’s not really like any films that preceeded or followed it, the pace and intensity are unique to it.

    Stroheim’s compulsion to belabour every single moment may be his only connection to that later phony Von of Denmark.

    Tully Marshall, the revolting groom in North Africa, links Stroheim to Sternberg, and is a memorable grotesque elsewhere, but never so repellent as here. It’s pretty offensive to the disabled, but it’s an amazing physical perf.

  3. All the “Vons” are phony. Erich Stroheim added it to hide the fact that he was as Welles called him, a poor son of a Jewish haberdasher. Then Jonas Sternberg was really lower middle class Jewish immigrant. Neither of them would qualify for the Almanach von Gotha, (whose original archives were destroyed by USSR during their invasion of Nazi Germany as an act of revenge). Lars Trier is just a self-hating post-modernist, unlike Tarantino who is a self-loving post-modernist.

    Stroheim is certainly really contemporary compared to other silent masters and certainly superior to Griffith. I always felt he was quite underwritten given how major he was, the inspiration for Renoir, Welles, Wilder, Bergman, and among contemporary film-makers, Woody Allen (most apparent in Wonder Wheel).

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