Erich von Stroheim's onscreen version of Greed is a dramatic silent film that tells the story of a miner-turned-dentist (McTeague) that wins his wife (Trina) from her cousin, which is McTeague's friend (Marcus). Trina wins five thousand dollars in a lottery after McTeague and she marry. After Trina wins the lottery, Marcus accuses McTeague of marrying her for the money. Trina's obsession with money increases as the movie progresses, and she refuses to spend any of her lottery winnings. Trina refuses even after her husband and she become financially troubled and are forced into dire straits. Then Marcus turns McTeague into the authorities, claiming he is not a licensed dentist. Therefore, this deprives McTeague of his mediocre living, his and Marcus's friendship, and destroys his marriage even further. In the end, murder interjects, leaving no one unharmed.
The most legendary part of the film is the making of it. Von Stroheim, with the support of the Goldwyn studio, tried to a film a version of Norris's book as close to every detail as he possibly could. In order to capture the real spirit of the story, von Stroheim insisted on filming in San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada mountains on location, despite the very harsh conditions. This request resulted in a final print of the film being over eight hours long in length. This version of the film produced at over five hundred thousand dollars. This amount of money was unheard of at the time for the production of a film.
Another studio acquired Goldwyn during the production called Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer forced von Stroheim to edit the film to a more reasonable and manageable length. So, against his will, von Stroheim delivered a print of the film with a running time of just over four hours with the assistance of editor Grant Whytock and director Rex Ingram. Then the film was cut even shorter, despite von Stroheim's protests.
Existing prints of Greed are about two and a half hours long. The hours of the film that were cut from the original version are believed to be have been destroyed. Therefore, this desecration made this film known as one of the most famous "lost" films of Hollywood.
Turner Entertainment currently holds the rights to Greed. In 1999, Turner decided to recreate the original version as close as they possibly could. Turner did this by combining the existing footage with still photographs of the lost scenes. This version of the film is almost four and a half hours long.
In conclusion, von Stroheim's version of the infamous silent film Greed, has made its mark in the film industry in more ways than one. As of present time, the film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.