Evil, decadent Queen Regina V (Seena Owen, doomed queen of Babylon in Intolerance) is engaged to wolfish Prince Wolfram, but he falls for convent orphan Gloria Swanson whose pants have fallen down. I am not making this up. They go on for twenty minutes about her pants falling down, which is a pretty big deal in an hour and forty minute movie. Anyway the queen decides to punish Wolfram by moving up their wedding to the next day. And Wolfram plays a hilarious prank, breaking into the convent, setting it on fire to flush out his beloved, then kidnapping her. This doesn’t end well for either of them when the queen finds out. Wolfram is imprisoned (I like that he receives visitors in “solitary confinement”) and Gloria jumps into the river, killing herself, the end.
But that’s only the end because Stroheim was fired from what was meant to be a five-hour film, so producer Swanson wrapped it up quickly and shipped to theaters. The DVD contains a couple reels of what was shot next, after Gloria was supposed to be saved from drowning in the river: some crazy scenes in an African brothel where Gloria is forced to marry the brilliantly grotesque Tully Marshall (Intolerance‘s High Priest who deposes the queen). The movie pops to life here, turns from a stodgy old costume drama with a few exciting shots into a sleazy melodrama with only exciting shots.
Wolfram, receiving bad news:
Kelly hanging over the river, remembering everyone laughing at her (left) as the queen (right) chased her from the palace with a whip.
Silent movies can get tiresome when they have too many intertitles, each of which lasts too long. Definitely the case here. Produced by Swanson and Joe “JFK’s dad” Kennedy, and supposedly sunk by clash of personalities, increase in Hollywood censorship, and the advent of talkies. I didn’t feel like watching the thousand minutes of extra features today, so I read the Senses of Cinema article instead.
In the African sequences… the relationship between Regina and Wolfram is mirrored by Jan Vooyheid and Kitty’s loveless, contemptuous marriage. As with Regina’s introduction at the beginning of the film, Stroheim uses a series of vignettes to summarise Jan’s attributes. Jan (Kitty’s benefactor) can also be seen as the degenerate extrapolation of an unredeemed Wolfram; old, ugly, and crippled by syphilis, he is a violent, disrespectful, gambling, whoring drunk.