Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zasu Pitts, Gibson Gowland, Jean Hersholt, Dale Fuller, Tempe Pigott, Sylvia Ashton, Chester Conklin, Joan Standing
Written by: June Mathis, Erich von Stroheim, based on a novel by Frank Norris
Directed by: Erich von Stroheim
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 140
Date: 12/04/1924

Greed (1924)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Pulling Teeth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Erich von Stroheim's silent masterpiece is part of Hollywood legend. Based on the novel McTeague by Frank Norris, it's the story of a simple dentist, McTeague (Gibson Gowland), whose wife Trina (Zasu Pitts) wins the lottery, but won't part with any of the money. Memorable moments include Trina's weird, vieny arms caressing her gold, and the unforgettable Death Valley ending.

Von Stroheim filmed in the streets of San Francisco in the 1920s, complete with a shot of the Cliff House at the time. Stroheim's initial cut was 42 reels, or about 9 hours and 11 minutes, but it was brutally cut by the studio, and the rest of the footage has been lost forever (like "The Magnificent Ambersons"). Now it runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, and it's still great. I was lucky enough to see this at a rare theatrical screening in the early 1990s, apparently one of the best prints still in existence, accompanied by a live organ score. (In 1999, another version was completed using photographs of the deleted scenes. It ran 239 minutes and premiered on TV. Neither version has yet to be released on DVD in the United States.) Either way, Greed is essential viewing.

A gifted, but notoriously difficult filmmaker, Stroheim only directed nine movies. Most of them were truncated, and one of them is lost forever. Today he's perhaps better known as a crazy character actor in movies like La Grande Illusion and Sunset Boulevard.

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