Greed (1924) – Erich von Stroheim

 

The Great Movies – 100 Year of Film book brings me the first drama title to take a look at.

Directed by Erich von Stroheim and based on the novel, McTeague by Frank Norris, Greed is a massive story, that when originally put together by Stroheim for a screening, ran for nine and a half hours!! The studio, of course, insisted that the film be trimmed down to a more suitable run time, and cut it down to a runtime of just over two hours.

As such, lots of the films nuances and characters are lost, but the essence of the story is still there.

McTeague (Gibson Gowland) is hard at work in a gold mine, trying to get his big strike, when a dentist happens into town, and he becomes an apprentice. Moving to the big city after touring with the dentist, he sets up his own practice, and eeks out a life for himself.

When he meets his friend Marcus’ (Jean Hersholt) cousin Trina (Zasu Pitts), both men have romantic designs on her. But Marcus, being a good friend, steps aside so that Mac can attempt to court his cousin (cause that’s not gross).

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As the relationship progresses, rockily, the two finally end up together. When Trina wins a lottery of $5000 off a ticket while she was with Marcus, he becomes upset and jealous, believing he is entitled to part of the winnings, as the two of them were together when she bought the winning ticket.

As an act of vengeance, Marcus has his former friend’s dentist business shut down, seeing as his education was never official.

Trina fearful that either man may try and spirit her prize money away, sequesters it, living miserly, poorly, while stockpiling, even keeping Mac’s money when he makes some.

When McTeague is left jobless and without prospects, the violence in the relationship increases, from Mac biting Trina’s fingers so badly they become infected and need to be amputated, to his eventual confrontation with her, resulting in a devastating outcome.

On the run with the $5000 and wanted for murder, a pursuit takes place across Death Valley, leading to an incredible climax.

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This one was good, the loss of a lot of story and plot is apparent, and could have been recut and remade into a tighter, more solid film in my opinion, but it was an intriguing watch none the less. The ending is practically pitch perfect, as McTeague seems to be driven right to the edge of madness by his greed.

I quite like a good silent film, and this one continues to foster that appreciation. I like the use of different film stocks to suggest day and night, the hand-tinting of items throughout the film to convey them as gold, the only true color on the screen.

The only thing I couldn’t take seriously in the film was Gowland’s hair, its look and style seemed more apropos of a comedy film than a drawn-out drama.

Still, this one was an interesting watch, and I’m looking forward to see what the recommendations are as I dig deeper into the drama section of Great Movies – 100 Years of Film.

Have you seen this one?

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