Visually sumptuous, evocative, striking and all those other great adjectives; but dramatically dull. Partly to blame is obviously the unfinished nature of this film, but even the more complete sequences are rather dull. Am I the only one that felt it got really Lynchian once she went to her Aunt?
Quite a bit is missing from the end - but plot developments from the titles sound intriguing. As is, the film offers some powerful and emotional scenes from Swanson, as a convent girl who falls in love with a prince. The early scene of the prince making his whole regiment follow him as he seduces Kelly on horseback is memorable, with much humour, as is the dramatic whipping the queen gives her in the palace.
This could have been a masterpiece. For 73 minutes I enjoyed the beautiful vision Erich von Stroheim had for this movie, but all that faded away when Kelly (Gloria Swanson) left for Africa. It is a shame that Erich von Stroheim was not allowed to finish the movie just because Swanson thought the scenes set in Africa were distasteful.
Exquisite sets and camera compositions throughout this film. Also Queen Regina has one of my favourite character entrances in a film ever - sporting an alcoholic drink, a fluffy white cat and basically nothing else in her lavish bedroom, and swiftly begins sleuthing on her husband to be. Instant badass. Tony Montana would be proud. All characters, however, felt quite one-dimensional.
'85 restoration The film that was famously taken away from Von Stroheim and basically ended his directorial career despite the filmography that came before it. His excesses caused friction with star Swanson and spiralled from there. An initially good melodrama that just seems to get worse as it meanders forward and winds up just this side of ridiculous. Swanson is game throughout but is basically the whole show.
There's certainly something about Gloria S. She makes a highly unconvincing teenager - which is presumably what she is supposed to be - but that arguably adds a further level of kinkiness to the whole operation, which has a vertiginous irresponsibility to it. But it's not a coherent movie, and probably wouldn't have been, even if completed.
My favourite Stroheim's film from the greatest three (meaning Greed and Foolish Wives). It has some hilarious moments, Erich turns out to be a pervert. The ending (which doesn't exist) spoiled it for me though. A whipping scene is a must-see. By the way, you must be wrong in the head if you don't love Gloria Swanson!
What a relief that Von Stroheim shot most of this on chronological order! Though brilliant, the real stand-outs are the 15-20 minutes of African footage, which eclipses anything from the vast majority of Stroheim's work. As Arthur Lennig points out, Stroheim contrasts Europe - Civilization, with Africa - Our human origins. And what are those origins? A Nightmare: A moral Death Valley.