Greed (1924)

Directed by Erich von Stroheim
Written by Erich von Stroheim and June Mathis based on the book by Frank Norris
(number 404)

I blithely opened up this video file to watch and realised it’s almost a four hour movie… so this review may be bitsy as I watch this in manageable chunks. Apparently there was once a 9 hour version of it? According to the all knowing wikipedia ” In 1999 Turner Entertainment created a four-hour version of Greed that used existing stills of cut scenes to reconstruct the film. ” this is the version I watched, and I didn’t appreciate the reinserted stills.

So, the film opens with a curly haired miner who looks remarkably like Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, who finds a small hurt bird and then tosses a man off a cliff. I guess this is our character introduction…

Okay. Being square with you since you’re a dedicated follower of this blog or you just randomly came here for my take on this particular movie. I found this movie incredibly tough to follow – the story telling is disjointed, introducing characters all over the place and then tying them into the Macteague epic. And I didn’t like Macteague so I had very little connection to what was going on. I couldn’t sit and watch this whole film, I had to skip bits.

I did really enjoy the soundtrack. I feel that the soundtrack could be a great background play for a roleplaying game.

Macteague was played to be revolting and frightening, despite the whole ‘little bird’ bookends, but he took the bird into Death Valley with him -not exactly good pet ownership. Trina was played with delightfully weird gigantic wide eyes at almost all times. Her behaviour made little sense to me though, unless you assume she goes crazy right when she wins the lottery.

Does it make me love the people? I find the story and characters really hard to relate to. The characters are caricatures, acted out as if in a pantomime, or frozen in an exaggerated tableau which the camera variously zooms in and out on to emphasise different expressions pulled by rubber faced actors. This kind of storytelling doesn’t encourage connection for me, and the main point which is of course, ‘money corrupts’ is hammered home again and again in different ways.

Overall most of the film just felt like watching an abusive couple torment each other – her with her greed and meanness, switching fast to ‘don’t you love me?’ and him with his violent temper and irrational behaviour. Unpleasant.

Bechdel test: I think… somewhere in there it might, but it’s very possible not enough of the women have proper names. You could say that Maria and Trina talk when Maria’s saying to buy a lottery ticket but it’s a stretch, the man present does most of the talking. The two of them definitely have a conversation later on but it’s about Macteague…

Best lines, chosen because they’re so great and weird, first is said by Maria, second is about her.

“Had a flying squirrel, let him go!”

“She’s a greaser, and she’s queer in the head. You ought to hear her go on about a gold dinner service.”

State of Mind: Why is this a classic? I suspect it’s a scope thing. I read that Stroheim insisted everything be filmed on location instead of soundstage, and that the original 9 hours piece is considered his masterpiece. Overall I suffered through it, and have no desire to watch it again. It really needs editing, and a lot of the reinserted still scenes were tangents, not important the main plot which was slow and meandering enough.

Watched movie count


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