Eric von Stroheim is not my favorite director. He is a decent actor, but as a director he is a disaster. Apparently he was able to convince much of the establishment in the early twenties that he was a real auteur long before that was even a label. I suppose his eccentric behavior was how he got away with it.
“Foolish Wives” ought to be called “Foolish Directors”. The story is actually good. Russian exile nobility hanging out in Monaco and financing their expensive lifestyle by conning naïve wealthy tourists. This should be fun. At least it is in so many other later cases. Or at least charming like Ernst Lubitsch “Trouble in Paradise”. But von Stroheim kills it rather well. It is not funny, it is not charming. Karamzin and his sisters just appear pathetic and if they were not so cold and stupid I would almost feel sorry for them.
Karamzin has his eyes set on an American diplomat wife and set up an elaborate scheme to lure her money out of her. Not funny or fascinating schemes mind you. Pathetic and self-indulgent schemes. Unfortunately for our friend, the Count, he also have another girlfriend who has been kept waiting for so long and made to serve him with so little in return that she finally takes her revenge by destroying him. Ah, well, the burning scene is nice I suppose.
The copy I watched was in a really bad condition. I mean really bad. That of course does not help. However I do not think it would have saved the movie had it been beautifully restored. The book is full of praise for “Foolish Wives” and I was looking forward to seeing it. After seeing it I am wondering what movie the authors of the book saw. The only items from the books entry I recognized was the title and the name of Count Karamzin.
Sometimes I get a pleasant surprise from the movies on the list. Almost always the movies have something going for them. Not so “Foolish Wives”. I really do not understand why this movie is on the list. I would have loved another Douglas Fairbanks movie. His version of Robin Hood for example. I hereby pass that suggestion on to the authors of the book for the next editions.