Greed: A Butchered Masterpiece*

         Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed (1925) is undoubtedly one of the greatest accomplishments of the silent film era. Stroheim, born in September of 1885 in Austria-Hungary, wanted nothing more than to tell an epic story in a way that no one else had ever done.

         The original version of the film was 42 reels, and ran for 9 hours at 20 fps. Von Stroheim then shortened it to 24 reels (just over 5 hours--the "Director's Version"). It was then cut again, not once, but twice. The first time by Rex Ingram, who cut the film down to 18 reels, and forbade Stroheim to let anyone cut it again. The final cut was performed by MGM editing department's Joseph Farnham, acting on orders from Irving Thalberg, who, without having read the book (Frank Norris’ McTeague) or the script, cut the film down to 10 reels. This final version was released with a runtime of 2-1/4 hours. No copies of the earlier versions were made, and the entirety of the 32 reels that did not make the final release version were destroyed--along with all of the outtakes--so that the silver could be extracted from the film celluloid. It is in this way, that most of the movie was lost forever (“Greed”).

         So the question is, what is the global cinematic significance of this film since it was all filmed in San Francisco? Well, the significance of the film is Stroheim, his story and his work ethic. Following the end of the First World War, Stroheim turned to writing and then directed his own script for Blind Husbands in 1919. He also starred in the film. As a director, Stroheim was known to be dictatorial and demanding, often antagonizing his actors. He is considered one of the greatest directors of the silent era, representing on film his by turns cynical and romantic views of human nature. Some people may look down on Stroheim’s tactics to antagonize actors. But this is a very gutsy way to push actors to their limits that will eventually bring out their best work.

Work Cited

“Greed,” IMDb.com 2 Apr. 2008 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0015881/).

Derek Owen

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