Erich von Stroheim had been filming Greed for nearly a year when Metro Pictures merged with Goldwyn Pictures. Little did he know at the time, this mergence would drastically affect his masterpiece. He took on the project after reading Frank Norris's novel, McTeague. Drawn to this naturalist work, von Stroheim insisted that the film accurately portray the text. This led to rumors that "he was shooting the entire novel, sentence by sentence" (Hay 20). His imminent desire for correctness affected both his choice of location and the performance of the actors.
Greed, originally entitled McTeague, the same as the novel, was shot on location in Northern California, San Francisco, and Death Valley. The beginning of the film, which relates McTeague's poor family background in coal mining country, was shot in the hills of California. The majority of the scenes, namely those which displayed the dental practice and tenant quarters, were shot in San Francisco. The ending of the film was shot in Death Valley, where Marcus pursued McTeague into the desert. Because the film was shot on location, the realism that von Stroheim had hoped for was achieved. Nevertheless, shooting in Death Valley was a grueling process.
Von Stroheim was reported to have taken a crew of at least forty people into Death Valley. It was midsummer, and von Stroheim reported temperatures that "hit 140 degrees in the shade" (Hay 23). The cast and crew suffered through the heat to finish the film. Upon the completion of the film, von Stroheim commented on the Death Valley experience, saying: "'I believe the results I achieved through the actual heat and physical strain were worth the trouble we had all gone to'" (qtd. in Hay 23). No one could say von Stroheim lacked results. After editing the film, he presented it to Goldwyn as a film running over nine hours (Cook 196).
Von Stroheim's need for perfection affected his expectations for the actors. While the San Francisco scenes were being shot, von Stroheim forbade the actors to reside anywhere but on the sets. He justified his logic by saying that the actors could only give authentic performances if they stayed on location (Hay 23). Furthermore, he pushed the actors to their limits. He spoke of his actors, saying: "'I crush them, beat them until they are ready to quit. That's when I get their real soulů.'" (qtd. in Hay 20). His demands were great, but he felt they had paid off.
Therefore, Erich von Stroheim was a director with the need for authenticity and perfection. This need affected his choice of location and the performances of the actors. He followed the text of McTeague closely, shot on location in three different cities, endured raging heat, and pushed actors to meet his standards.
Hay, Peter. MGM When the Lion Roars. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1991.