Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1929. Gloria Swanson Pictures. Titles by Marian Ainslee, based on an original story by Erich von Stroheim. Cinematography by Paul Ivano, Gordon Pollock. Produced by Joseph P. Kennedy, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim. Music by Adolph Tandler. Production Design by Harold Miles. Costume Design by Max Ree. Film Editing by Viola Lawrence.
Director Erich von Stroheim conceived a five-hour epic drama but was never able to achieve his dream; producer/star Gloria Swanson was so frustrated with his perfectionism, including going over budget with constant reshoots, that she fired him and released what footage she could combine into a cohesive narrative. The film as it exists today is a mish-mash of elements, a lot of the original footage surviving while still photographs fill in the story at the end. Swanson is excellent as a girl being educated at a convent who charms the soldier betrothed to the domineering queen of their fictional European principality. Deciding to follow his passion, the man abandons his queen for Swanson, which gets her banished to Africa where she lives with her aunt and is forced to marry a gross old man upon her aunt’s death. At that point she is supposed to become a brothel madam whose success leads to her being called by the film’s title, but sadly we can’t get to that part of the story, it has been lost to time and production difficulties. Despite the missing elements, however, this is a satisfying experience to watch thanks to gorgeous production values and the superb performance by Swanson in the lead. The history between director and star must have been something to deal with when Billy Wilder convinced them to work together in Sunset Boulevard twenty-one years later, even cheekily using footage from this film when Norma Desmond screens her old films for co-star William Holden.