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In January of 1924, director Erich von Stroheim gathered a small group
of friends to view his magnum opus, a film which would become
legendary. This was GREED & when the experience was over, all there
agreed that they had just seen the greatest motion picture ever
created. They were the only audience to see the film in its entirety.
Von Stroheim was, with Griffith & Chaplin, one of the authentic geniuses of the silent cinema. He had an unerring eye for what was visual and how to transfer mere words into astonishing images on the screen. He was also terribly adept at spending other people's money. A notorious stickler for the most authentic minute detail, he ignored concerns for time & financial budgets.
The original GREED ran somewhere between 8 and 9½ hours. While that would be fine for a modern TV miniseries, it is unworkable for a motion picture. The bosses at MGM had had difficulty with von Stroheim before and were in no mood to mess around. GREED was taken out of its director's control and hacked down to 140 minutes. All the excised footage was destroyed. This is the blackest spot on Irving Thalberg's memory. Von Stroheim mourned his lost masterpiece the rest of his life.
The story, although incredibly detailed, is fairly straightforward. The corrupting influence of wealth is examined through the lives of seven individuals. The tragic marriage of Mac, a fake dentist & Trina, an innocent young woman, is compared & contrasted to the equally horrific relationship between the mad Maria & Zerkow the Junkman; and to the beatific love between Old Grannis, owner of a dog hospital & Miss Baker, a sweet old lady. Shadowing Mac & Trina is her cousin Marcus, equally in love with her & the $5,000 she wins in a lottery.
The story of Mac & Trina is the main focus & it is utterly compelling. Seldom has the destruction of a marriage been seen in such detail. Certain scenes stay in the mind a long time: the picnic lunch on the sewer; their wedding, while a funeral procession marches by below; their final bloody confrontation.
The movie ends, as does the book it is based on, in Death Valley. Von Stroheim insisted on actually shooting there in summer. The heat was terrible & it shows on the faces of Gibson Gowland as Mac & Jean Hersholt as Marcus. The ending is as stark & unforgiving as the desert itself.
Mr. Gowland & ZaSu Pitts give the performances of their lives, magnificent in every way. Mr. Gowland shows us the full extent of a simple man being driven insane, while Miss Pitts' change from sweetness to a miserly shrew is truly frightening. Had the film not been butchered and their performances seen in their entirety, they surely would had ascended to the very heights of their profession. As it was, Gowland quickly descended back into obscurity, spending the rest of his career in mostly unbilled bit parts. Miss Pitts became a comedienne, whose vague manner & fluttery hands were seen in many comedies over the next 35 years. Von Stroheim continued with his excesses and finally met his directorial downfall a few years after GREED. He was able to continue on in films as a very good character actor, mostly in Europe.
In 1999, Turner Classic Movies had GREED reconstructed, using hundreds of still photographs taken during production, editing based on an original shooting script, an inspired use of color and tints & a new musical score. The result runs for 4 hours and is wonderful. At last we have a better understanding of Von Stroheim's blighted vision & wasted genius.
You don't have to watch "Greed" for very long to become impressed with the
masterful technique of von Stroheim and his cast. Sometimes it relies on
fancy methods such as the occasional use of gold tinting (which must have
demanded some painstaking work), and at other times it relies on flawless
direction, carefully chosen details, and a keen understanding of what is
happening in the characters' lives. The tense finale is especially
memorable, a sequence you won't forget for a while.
The only real questions about "Greed" have to do with its length. Hardly anyone disputes the folly of the studio decision to chop the original down to a couple of hours. The restored version uses stills and title cards to fill in the most important scenes that were left out in the studio release, and from this you can also piece together what was actually included in the shorter version. Several significant secondary characters were almost completely eliminated, which took away some of the relationships that were supposed to serve as important comparisons with the central relationship between McTeague and his wife. Even if they had been right to cut the film to a quarter of its length, the choices they made left much to be desired.
Would it really have been better with several more hours of material? Although there is plenty of plot, there isn't anything in the story thematically that would require anything longer then the restored version. It's a gripping study of human flaws, especially greed, but goes no farther. It is admirable to see a director try to hold so closely to a novel, but the Frank Norris novel, while detailed, convincing, and well-conceived as far as it goes, doesn't have the depth or the multi-dimensional characters of the greatest novels. There is no doubt that the lost footage would have provided many more examples of fine film-making, but most of it would not have added very much to the story itself.
What would probably have been perfect is something close to the length of the restored version, with the actual (but now lost) footage instead of the patchwork reconstruction. Since that is impossible, we are very fortunate to have the restored version that includes all of the most important parts of the story and that gives new life to one of the fine classics of silent cinema.
There was a time, and it was only a few years ago, when I found it
difficult to sit through a silent film. The exaggerated movements and
facial expressions and the over-bearing music, I believe, turned me
However, that changed drastically when I watched von Stroheim's Greed for the first time. The film, simply put, is immaculate. The portrayal of McTeague and Trina is fantastic. Pitts and Gowland, without using their voices mind you, create depth and allow the audience to sympathize with the characters. Silence often acted as a barrier between myself and the characters; here, that distance is bridged by the two actors and, I must assume, von Stroheim's masterful direction.
Yes, the direction is masterful. I believe describing it as such is entirely accurate. Innovative may go too far, but masterful just about covers it. The realism (which shooting on locations benefited) is something to behold. This is a story that Hollywood would balk at depicting in 2004; imagine the row that was had in 1924. Von Stroheim never backs away from his unrelentingly grim vision, reinforcing his theme (money is evil) throughout. And then there is the Death Valley sequence - one of the most marvelous series of scenes committed to celluloid.
All in all, this is truly a fantastic film - one that has aged, due to its ability to treat grim subject matter as it should, much better than many of its contemporaries. Also, it should be noted, that this represents a fine adaptation of Norris' novel McTeague. I was a fan of the novel before I saw the film and the film does not disappoint.
Von Stroheim ensured that the spirit, if not the word, of the novel was maintained.
The restored version that is currently shown on TCM from time to time is the only version worth watching. While it's not complete, it has more footage than the print that has been floating around since 1925. The restored version runs a good 4 hours, with stills and titles, and is beautifully tinted. If you plan on seeing this, see the restored one, it is truly a powerful film.
Erich von Stroheim made his film version of Frank Norris' novel McTeague',
and, as is well-known, it lasted over eight hours. The version which has
survived is obviously nothing near that length, and cuts out many of the
subplots from the book which had been planned and filmed.
What has survived is a broken masterpiece, starring Gibson Gowland, ZaSu Pitts, and Jean Hersholt, which is full of memorable images (not just the final sequences in the desert, but the trip out where McTeague and Trina fall awkwardly in love, and the scene where Trina rolls literally in the golden coins strewn on her bed) and makes you long for more of this film to turn up from the vaults.
There is a marvellous book available which reconstructs much of the lost material through stills, and much of this was amalgamated with the existing footage to restore' the film during the late 1990s. Even in its butchered state, Greed is well worth a look.
Greed(1925) was based on a novel that was in the tradition of great long
novels like Crime and Punishment or War & Peace. The director, Erich Von
Stroheim wanted to do a faithful adapation of the book McTeague because of
his fascination with the theme of greed. He did do a faithful adaption but
ended up paying a stiff price for his drive towards perfection. Marvelous
film that is one of the 100 greatest films of all time. The acting is
terrific and the story is compelling to follow.
Gibson Gowland does a convincing job in the role of Dr. McTeague. Like many of the director's early films, Greed(1925) was severely cut. Original running time of the movie was nine hours. Its a disgrace that we will never see the full cut ever resurface in the theaters or DVD. One of the best films from the 1920s(besides Metropolis) to suffer at ridiculus cuts at the hands of the censors and studios.
A film almost as powerful as it is famous, Greed is pretty
straight-forward about its theme: Greed. And what it does to people.
This would not be a silent film known for its subtlety, but a large part of that is the fact that it's really only a tenth of the film it was supposed to be. Entire reels have been cut down to single cue-cards, entire years jump by that were obviously supposed to be shown. In terms of the general "rules" of narrative, it works out well enough that it's still a quite clear story that follows a reasonable pace, but the lack of a lot of the character development and the like is pretty apparent.
Still, the music used on the film and the general story itself is powerful enough, it's definitely worth your time.
A man and a woman marry. The man is a simpleton, the woman is a hoarder. When she wins a $5000 lottery, she vows never to spend a cent of it... something that sets her husband and their common friend at odds as they all want the cash... but not necessarily to spend it. Entire relationships and lives are ripped asunder as they all grapple for their rights to "their" property: their greed.
This movie has been praised for its realism, but that couldn't be further from the truth. This movie is romanticized to the level of absurdity, the characters are so full-blown they are often hard to relate to. This comes from the fact that 80% of their development has been lost in the final cut. I don't want this to seem like a bad thing: because of their incredible antics, the movie takes you to places almost entirely unheard of and definitely unexpected.
It's one deep thrill after the other, backed up by some very beautiful imagery and intense music. It's just unfortunately not what the director intended. Even back in the day, people just didn't have a big enough attention span, and I find that very tragic. I want to see the ten-hour version.
Heavily edited MGM release version of Stroheim's 8 hour epic satisfies at 2 and a half hours -- you have to wonder if any extra length would have made it a little better or a little worse. To be sure, Stroheim probably ran the thing pretty slow when he projected it. Authentic detail in locations adds another level of interest, as we get to see parts of San Francisco, Oakland, and Placer County in the early 20s. The story is dark and involved, detailing the love of two people destroyed by their compulsive greed and neuroses. There is no moment in its story where the viewpoint is not pessimistic, except the image of dual humanity presented in McTeague's birds. Exceptional.
I saw the Turner Classic Movies version of this with the still pictures implanted in missing scenes. Although a certain flow is lost, it comes across as a great film. What a shame that so much was destroyed. It tells the story of two pretty good people who should never have got together. Zasu Pitts who looks pretty glamorous at first, is obsessed with money. This obsession ends up destroying her life and McTeagues. There are scenes that are just uncomfortable and others that are horrible. The jockeying for position in the family with the husband willing to bend only so far leads to tragic consequences. Avarice will eventually take one down and Von Stroheim showed this to us. The scene with the two men fighting it out in the desert at the end is one of the most painful ever. Neither can ever hope to survive, yet their fixation on gold goes beyond their love of life. It is so pathetic. Even with all that missing footage, everyone should see this for the masterful presentation of the sick and dying characters. Deep down inside, I've always hoped that someone will open a vault or a supply cabinet, and there will be the rest of Von Stroheim's masterpiece. We can only hope, can't we.
Although I am not a big fan of classics, I know a good movie when I see one.
However the legendary butchering of the film is more interesting than the
movie itself. The original film was over nine hours long and was trimmed
down to just over two and a half hours. Director Erich von Stroheim
condemned the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) for slashing his film.
Continuity and subplots were torn from the masterpiece. Turner later tried
to restore the film with publicity stills and new dialogue cards. This
helped the film regain continuity and bring to light some of the subplots in
the film. Turners new version is four hours and is splendidly
The film is about a miner named John McTeague who becomes a dentist through an apprenticeship. He soon opens his own business and meets a woman already involved with his friend Marcus. Marcus agrees to step aside since McTeague is obviously in love with the woman. After the woman named Trina wins $5000 in a lottery the story really takes off in what can only be described as a serious case of "Greed." I can tell no more without spoiling the film, but if you can stomach silent films this is one of the best.
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