Greed: Erich von Stroheim's Mangled Masterpiece

        When Metro Pictures merged with Goldwyn Pictures in 1924, Louis B. Mayer summed up his vision for the new MGM by saying: "'Results only are what I am after'" (Hay 19). When it came to the director Erich von Stroheim, Mayer was not left wanting. Von Stroheim had been filming McTeague, later renamed Greed, for almost a year prior to the Metro-Goldwyn merger. A year and half a million dollars later, von Stroheim presented his edited, nine-hour film to Samuel Goldwyn. The presentation of von Stroheim's film resulted in permanent alteration and devastation.

        After the initial editing, Von Stroheim edited his film for the second time at Goldwyn's request, cutting it down from nine hours to five. A reduction, Goldwyn said, would make the film commercially distributable. When the five[-]hour film was still not short enough, von Stroheim asked Metro director Rex Ingram to edit it. Ingram separated the film into two halves, declaring that it could not be reduced any further and still maintain its composure (Cook 196). The film was then four hours, ready for distribution in two parts. Von Stroheim reportedly asked MGM founder, Marcus Leow, to show his film over the course of two evenings (Hay 23). Leow directed the matter to Louis B. Mayer, who, in the meantime, had "replaced Goldwyn as executive in charge of production" (Cook 196). Mayer wanted the film to be cut to under two hours to guarantee many scheduled theater screenings and, hence, more profit (Hay 23). This meant that the film would be placed in different hands for more editing. Irving Thalberg, with whom von Stroheim had had a former altercation at Universal, was given the editing position. The film was then reduced to ten reels, less than three hours. The cut footage was destroyed, and the complete film has never been shown. Devastated by his altered and partly destroyed film, von Stroheim disowned it and never saw the displayed version (Cook 196).

        Therefore, the permanent alteration of McTeague occurred after its presentation to Samuel Goldwyn in 1924. It was reduced from nine hours to under three. This alteration led to von Stroheim's devastation and his disownment of his once-masterpiece. The complete film has never been viewed by anyone other than von Stroheim and Rex Ingram. Viewers can only imagine how the original version would have appeared.

Works Cited

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Hay, Peter. MGM When the Lion Roars. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1991.

Crystal Parrish

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