Hollywood’s first wave of film makers were the real deal – egomaniacs, showmen and charlatans. The director of Greed was all of those. Erich Von Stroheim was born plain Erich Oswald Stroheim in Vienna but by the time he got to Hollywood in 1914 he’d become Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria Von Stroheim Und Nordenwall. Learning film-making on the grandest scale from D.W. Griffith, Stroheim first made his name as an actor playing “the man you love to hate”, notably throwing a baby out of a window in The Heart of Humanity. He then bought a riding crop, donned leather boots and a monocle and moved on to directing. 1924’s Greed was his meisterwerk, a silent nine-hour super-realist adaptation of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague about the uncertain rise and unpleasant fall of a drunken miner’s son. Von Stroheim shot it in all the locations mentioned in the book, at astronomical expense and allowing no written detail of its sour narrative to go unrecorded. It was MGM’s first feature-length film and they hated it, hacking and hacking again at it, but never happy. The butchered version is the one you’ll see in cinemas since the original has disappeared. It is clearly a madman’s folly, the likes of which could never be made today.
© Steve Morrissey 2007