Even in its mutilated form, Erich von Stroheim's Greed (1924) remains an intense silent masterpiece. Already notorious for his excesses when Goldwyn Pictures signed him in 1922, Stroheim faithfully adapted Frank Norris's naturalistic novel McTeague, shooting the grim story about a couple's avaricious downfall on location in San Francisco and Death Valley, tripling the original budget. Combining documentary realism with symbolic devices, Stroheim composed McTeague in deep-focus long takes, emphasizing expressive relationships between characters and settings through juxtapositions in a single shot. Stroheim was asked to cut his original nine-hour version to a length releasable in two parts; with Stroheim's blessing, it was reduced to four hours. Goldwyn, however, merged with Metro and Louis B. Mayer Productions to form MGM in 1924; Mayer turned McTeague over to his assistant, and Stroheim nemesis, Irving Thalberg for further edits. The hours of excised footage from the re-titled, 140-minute Greed were destroyed. Still, because of Stroheim's visual style, certain sequences, particularly the Death Valley dénouement, remain almost intact, retaining the story's power despite narrative holes. Greed made a profit, but Stroheim's struggles continued for the rest of his directorial career. Lost portions of Greed have since been reconstructed from numerous stills into a 239 minute version.
by Lucia Bozzola review