Greed (1924) is a dramatic silent film. It was directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt, Dale Fuller, Tempe Pigott, Sylvia Ashton, Chester Conklin, Joan Standing and Jack Curtis.
The plot follows a dentist whose wife wins a lottery ticket, only to become obsessed with money. When her former lover betrays the dentist as a fraud, all of their lives are destroyed. The movie was adapted by von Stroheim (shooting screenplay) and Joseph Farnham (titles) from the 1899 novel McTeague by Frank Norris. (The onscreen writing credit for June Mathis was strictly a contractual obligation to her on the part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the parent studio), as she was not actually involved in the production.) Originally over ten hours long, Greed was ultimately edited against von Stroheim's permission to about two and a half hours, and the full-length version is a lost film.
The story of the making of the movie has become a Hollywood legend. The story had been filmed once before by an American film studio, William A. Brady's World Pictures, in 1916 under the title McTeague starring Broadway star Holbrook Blinn. Under the aegis of the Goldwyn studio, von Stroheim attempted to film a version of the book complete in every detail. To capture the authentic spirit of the story, he insisted on filming on location in San Francisco, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Death Valley, despite harsh conditions.
The result was a final print of the film that was an astonishing ten hours in length, produced at a cost of over $500,000 — one of the most costly films yet made (though Stroheim's 1921 film Foolish Wives was publicized by Universal as costing over a million). Realizing it was far too long to be shown, Stroheim cut it down to six hours, to be screened with intermissions in two nights. However, Goldwyn producers told him to cut it to a more manageable length. With the assistance of fellow director Rex Ingram and editor Grant Whytock, von Stroheim trimmed the film to about four hours, to be shown in two parts.
However, during production, Goldwyn was merged into MGM. After screening it at full length once to meet contractual obligations, MGM removed Greed from von Stroheim's control despite his protests. The negative was given to MGM's head scriptwriter, June Mathis, with orders to cut it even further. Mathis gave the print to a routine cutter, who reduced it to 2.5 hours. In the process, key characters were removed from the final version so that it could be screened in a reasonable time frame. This created large gaps in continuity. Existing prints of Greed run at about two hours and twenty minutes.
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