Movie Roundup: Gloria Swanson Edition


For a slightly longer version of this, see the Metro Classics website.


Why Change Your Wife? – This time, it’s the husband (Thomas Meighan, who looks a bit like Joseph Cotton, or a unholy mix of Jude Law and Norm MacDonald) who’s dissatisfied, seems his wife is always interrupting his shaving, trying to get him to quit smoking, looks down on his reading movie magazines and turning off his hot new foxtrot music and making him listen to some violin piece called “The Dying Poet”. To try and spice things up, he buys her some lingerie, which she’s too shy to wear properly, so he goes to a show with the lingerie model (a typical flapper-type). Divorce, followed by the realization that Spouse #2 is even worse, ensues. This is pretty much in the same style as the first film, and Swanson is just as good (still hardly any closeups, though). There’s a long, expensive-looking sequence at a hotel pool that features some of the craziest, most impractical swimwear you’ve ever seen. Swanson I guess was famous at the time for her interest in haute couture, and for being one the first famous fashion stars. Personally, I think most of the clothes are pretty hideous and totally unflattering, but what do I know? The #3 film of 1920.


Queen Kelly – Swanson’s first and only collaboration with director Erich von Stroheim, her Sunset Blvd. costar, was this unfinished film. She and her boyfriend at the time, Joseph Kennedy (yes, that one) produced it and she hired von Stroheim to direct. The projected film would have been about five hours long, but she fired von Stroheim about one-third of the way (and $800,000 or so) through. It seems her changed the script without her approval (or the approval of the Hays Office) to have most of the last section of the film take place in a brothel instead of a “dance hall”, and knowing it would get censored, Swanson killed it. She went back later (with Gregg Toland) and shot a quick ending to the surviving footage, and Kino’s used some production stills to recreate and give a sense of von Stroheim’s version of the film. As it stands, neither version is particularly satisfying. The completed section is pretty terrific, with Swanson as a young convent girl (Kelly) whom the Queen’s fiancé falls in love with. The Queen herself (Regina V, played by Seena Owen) is crazy and violent and likes to whip people and walks around naked with only a cat covering her breasts. All this is a lot of fun, but in the long version, it would have only been a sort of prologue, with the rest of the film taking place in Africa has Swanson is forced to marry an evil looking guy (an incredibly creepy Tully Marshall), take over her aunt’s brothel and become a madam. All that survives of that is the forced marriage sequence, which is suitably horrifying. Swanson’s ending cuts out all of that, taking an abrupt conclusion on to the Prince & Queen story. The #5 film of 1929.

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