Silent cinema’s most famous ‘lost’ film, Von Stroheim’s monumental study of three ordinary lives destroyed by avarice was ruinously edited down by the studio.
“Stroheim’s greatest film still survives as a true masterpiece of cinema. Even now its relentlessly cynical portrait of physical and moral squalor retains the ability to shock.”
Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide, 2011
The career of Austrian-born director Erich von Stroheim is notorious for the level of interference he suffered from his Hollywood employers. Greed is the most infamously broken-backed of his films, originally screened in a version close to ten hours long but nervously hacked down by the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio to conventional length.
Adapting the 1899 novel McTeague by Frank Norris about the downfall of a lottery-winning woman and the two best friends who love her, Von Stroheim aimed to render the book in complete detail, allowing screen time to develop characters of startling psychological intensity. Expensively, he also insisted on shooting on location, including in the debilitating heat of Death Valley for the film’s tragic climax. Though the bulk of Greed is lost, what remains is considered a milestone for its powerful fusion of naturalism and melodrama.
John Huston’s 1948 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring Humphrey Bogart as a gold prospector, is another classic tale of greed in the heat and dust.