Greed (1924) dir. Erich von Stroheim

McTeague’s fiancé wins $5,000 in the lottery; $60,000 – $65,000 in 2010 dollars.  Guess which deadly sin transforms this small moment of happiness into epic tragedy.

 Greed - Zasu Pitts

I was going to people my scenes with real men, women and children, as we meet them every day in real life, in bad as well as in good taste, clean and dirty, faultless and ragged, but without exaggeration, without modification, and without the then currently popular concession to the conventions of stage and screen. I was going to film stories which would be believable, life-like, even if I had to make them realistic to the Nth degree. I intended to show men and women as they are all over the world, none of them perfect, with their good and bad qualities, their noble and idealistic sides and their jealous, vicious, mean and greedy sides. I was not going to compromise. – Erich von Stroheim

 Greed - hand

But Greed isn’t just realism.  Stroheim uses a broad mix of styles.  As Jonathan Rosenbaum points out, in regards to Maria and Zerkow the junk dealer,

Their grim relationship is driven by greed and mutual mistrust and is mainly lit and framed in an expressionist manner, in contrast to the poetic styling of Old Grannis and Miss Baker, which shows the influence of DW Griffith.

Originally 8 – 10 hours long, Greed was cut several times and eventually released at only 140 minutes.  The rest of the footage was burned.  I was able to see TCM’s attempt at restoration, lasting about 4 hours.  The restoration tells the story of the missing footage with production stills.  Intelligent pans and zooms make the viewing enjoyable rather than tedious.

 Greed - Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts

Even at only 4 hours, the film feels like a Russian novel.  It gives the lives of American plebs the Dostoevskian treatment.  The Death Valley finale truly feels like the culmination of a lifetime.

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder”. – Alfred Hitchcock

Reviews from 1924 – 1925 can be found at Welcome to Silent Movies.

Adam Call Roberts

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