The movie ”Greed” has two claims to fame:
a. It being the first feature to be entirely shot on location
b. It’s insane original running time of nine hours.
While it is kind of cool to have made a movie of nine hours, it is also incredibly self-destructive considering that the story can barely carry a two hour running time. The version I found was supposed to be a recreation of von Stroheim’s (Yes, he is the guy) own reluctant cut of some four hours. The difference between the studios’s cut of 140 minutes and von Stroheim’s has been inserted as stills and inter-titles. Well, if you want to kill a movie experience that is the way to do it. I found nothing in those stills that justified the longer running time and even without them it is pretty dragged out.
The fact that it is shot on location is a nice detail I suppose but does not really justify its exalted status. Its moral story maybe, though it is mostly a story of grief and decline and futility.
In many ways this is a parallel to “La Roue”. The obvious reason being the mammoth running time. But also in choice of theme. John McTeague is an unfortunate character, who first beats the odds working himself up from nothing to be a respected dentist and get the girl of his dreams to then fall into a bottomless abyss of ruin, drink and more ruin. It does not seem to matter what he does, he is doomed. A hopelessness that match Sisif of “La Roue” very well. McTeague is also living a lie. He was never a “real” dentist; he just learned the craft and figured that was enough. But when that collapses it is just one of the legs being kicked away from under him.
McTeagues enemies are, like in La Roue, the ones closest to him. His best friend Marcus and his wife Trina.
Originally Marcus was a rival for Trina, but backs off when McTeague falls in love with her.
But then Trina wins the lottery!
Trina becomes a greedy bitch who will rather see her husband fall to pieces than spend any of her precious fortune (in some eerie scenes you can almost hear her say “My Precious!”) and Marcus changes his mind and arrange the downfall of McTeague to get Trina and the money.
From then on it is just downhill until the final shootout in the desert.
I don’t really like watching people meet misfortune in movies. Of course I know it is part of setting up the drama. Things have to go bad for them to get well again. But here this is a painful and artificially prolonged process that gets deeper than you imagine possible. You need to have a number of masochistic traits to enjoy this movie. Trina in particular is a character I came to despise thoroughly, though I suspect that was intended, but also McTeague show some less than pleasant sides and in the end I am just hoping that they will all shoot each other and end the misery, for themselves and for me.
Anything good then? I waited (looong) for the shootout in the desert and that part was decent. I just don’t think it was worth waiting for.
I have mentioned it before: Stroheim as a director is a disaster. Why his movies are celebrated is beyond me.