Director: Erich von Stroheim
Production: Begun under Goldwyn-von Stroheim Productions for Goldwyn Pictures; released by Metro-Goldwyn Corporation as a Louis B. Mayer Presentation; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: about 150 minutes, a 109-minute version also exists; originally 7-hours, but Stroheim was forced to edit further, first into a 4 hour version, then into a 3 hour version supervised by Rex Ingram, and finally cut to 2½ hours by the studio; length: 10,212 fee (some sources list length as 10,067 feet or 10,500 feet); originally 47,000 feet, then 45,000 feet, then 42,000 feet, then 24,000 feet, then 18,000 feet, then 16,000 feet, and finally present length. Released December 1924, New York; all scenes with gold or gold-related objects were hand-tinted in original release prints. Filmed in 9 months, 1922–23 and edited in 1 year, 1923–24. Filmed in Oakland, California, and in Death Valley and the Panamint Mountains, California. Cost: over $450,000.
Producers: Erich von Stroheim and Samuel Goldwyn, some sources list Irving Thalberg as producer; screenplay: Erich von Stroheim and June Mathis, from the novel McTeague by Frank Norris; original titles: Erich von Stroheim and June Mathis; released titles: Joseph Farnham; photography: William H. Daniels, Ben F. Reynolds, and Ernest B. Schoedsack; editor: Frank Hull; final version editors: Joseph Farnham and reputedly June Mathis; production designers: Capt. Richard Day and Erich von Stroheim (no actual sets used); art directors: Louis Germonprez and Edward Sowders; music: James and Jack Brennan.
Cast: In the Prologue: Jack Curtis (McTeague, Sr., Shift Boss at the Big Dipper Mine) (role cut from film); Tempé Piggot (Mother McTeague); Gibson Gowland (McTeague, the Son); Günther von Ritzau (Dr. "Painless" Potter); Florence Gibson (Hag); In the Play: Gibson Gowland (Doc McTeague); Jean Hersholt (Marcus Schouler); Chester Conklin (Popper Sieppe); Sylvia Ashton (Mommer Sieppe); ZaSu Pitts (Trina); Austin Jewell ("Owgoost" Sieppe); Oscar and Otto Gotell ("Der Tervins," the twin brothers); Joan Standing (Selina); Frank Hayes (Old Grannis); Fanny Midgley (Miss Baker); Max Tyron (Mr. Oelbermann); Hughie Mack (Heise, the Harness Maker); Tiny Jones (Mrs. Heise); J. Aldrich Libbey (Mr. Ryer); Rita Revela (Mrs. Ryer); Dale Fuller (Maria Miranda Macapa, a Scrubwoman); Cesare Gravina (Zerkow, a Junkman); Lon Poff (Lottery Agent); S. S. Simon (Joe Frenna, the Saloon Keeper); William Mollenheimer (The Palmist); Hugh J. McCauley (The Photographer); Jack McDonald (Cribbens, a Prospector); James Gibson (Deputy Sheriff).
Von Stroheim, Erich, and June Mathis, Greed, edited by Joel W. Finler, New York and London, 1972.
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Bazin, André, The Cinema of Cruelty: From Buñuel to Hitchcock, New York, 1982.
Koszarski, Richard, The Man You Loved to Hate: Erich von Stroheimand Hollywood, Oxford, 1983.
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Schepelern, P., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), March 1973.
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Henley, John, in Cinema Texas Program Notes (Austin), 25 September 1978.
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Grindon, L., "From Word to Image: Displacement and Meaning in Greed," in Journal of Film and Video (Los Angeles), no. 4, 1989.
Dean, T. K., "The Flight of McTeague's Soul-Bird: Thematic Differences Between Norris's McTeague and von Stroheim's Greed," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 2, 1990.
Cremonini, G., in Cineforum (Bergamo, Italy), April 1992.
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McCarthy, Todd, "Mutilated Masterpiece Gets the Loving Touch," in Variety (New York), vol. 376, no. 4, 13, September 1999.
* * *
Frank Norris' novel McTeague was the basis for Erich von Stroheim's film Greed. Though he had purchased the rights to it, he never got the production off the ground until Irving Thalberg, disgusted with von Stroheim's method of extravagant production on Merry-Go-Round, quarrelled with him, and von Stroheim was dismissed as Universal's most prestigious director/producer. It did not take long for von Stroheim to sign with Goldwyn studios, where it was soon announced that his first production would be a film depiction of McTeague.
The Norris novel is a dramatic and sordid but realistic preachment of the evils of greed. Heretofore von Stroheim had epitomized the grand scene. At Universal he had directed three big features that showed life on an extravagant scale: his characters were all venal and recklessly amoral; they were decadent, and offered to the public under such lurid titles as Blind Husbands, The Devil's Passkey, and Foolish Wives. His characters were the rich in an Alpine background, on the boulevards and in the boudoirs of Paris, and in the gambling casino at Monte Carlo, which was reconstructed on the Universal lot. McTeague took place wholly in California, specifically in San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay area, and Death Valley, in a very lower middle class, even depressed, society. The title character was a dentist from the lower classes who practiced his dentistry illegally. Both he and the girl he marries, Trina, are crass, uneducated vulgarians possessed and destroyed by a love for gold. It seemed unlike anything von Stroheim had attempted in his previous films.
Early in pre-production, the project was referred to as Greed, and the name soon became the accepted title. Deliberately doing a turnabout, von Stroheim saw it as a venture completely shot in its natural setting, the Bay area, as far as he could get from the studios of Hollywood. The company would even go to Death Valley to film the bitterly ironic finale of the story. He saw the project as a faithful adaptation of the Norris novel, an almost page-by-page recreation of a well-known American novel of the naturalist type. The film grew to monstrous proportions, eventually reaching an estimated nine-and-a-half hours. The studio forced von Stroheim to severely edit it. Secretly, his good friend, Rex Ingram, saw the film and helped him cut one version, but June Mathis was later called in to edit it down to under three hours. It remained, however, a hopelessly gargantuan project. Characters had to be eliminated so that the main story of McTeague, Trina, and Schouler became entirely the story of Greed.
Ironically, it was Irving Thalberg who ordered the drastic cuts in Greed. Thalberg had moved from his berth with Carl Laemmle at Universal to join the new Metro-Goldwyn. He was soon to become head of production at the amalgamated Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, where after Louis B. Mayer officially became head of production, he had his own unit. His first concern was to shape Greed out of the mountainous reels of footage which von Stroheim had so recklessly shot. It was at his order that Greed was released in 1924, but only a quarter of it contained footage shot by von Stroheim. That salvaged edition is the only one unreeled at von Stroheim retrospectives nowadays. The unused film was ordered melted down so that the silver in the negative could be salvaged. There would be no ultimate rediscovery of footage unused and fitted into subsequent re-issues of the picture. It would be another chapter in the obliteration of von Stroheim's name as a great director. Not one film he made exists as he originally envisioned it. All have been cut either maliciously or out of necessity. Only one may have escaped obliteration—Universal's The Devil's Passkey, but it is a lost picture. To date, no print whatsoever has survived.
The legend surrounding von Stroheim's name as a great creative director survives, however, nurtured by those who have read the original McTeague written by Frank Norris. There are moviegoers who can relate whole sequences of the film that are just not in the final print. Memorable, however, in the released film are such treasured moments as the wooing of Trina under sedation in a dental chair; the miserably unromantic, even comic, wedding of Trina and McTeague; the brutalization of Trina by McTeague, leading to her murder and his escape with the gold she had even slept with; McTeague's meeting with onetime friend, Marcus Schouler, and their journey across Death Valley. Schouler is slain by McTeague, but before Schouler dies, he handcuffs himself to McTeague, and the picture fades out on McTeague sitting in the murderous heat of Death Valley handcuffed to a corpse he slew.
Greed made no profit either domestic or foreign. Costing $585,000 to film (a fortune in the mid-1920s), Greed showed a gross of only $277,000 domestically, and the foreign receipts were even more disappointing. The world's moviegoing public simply resisted Greed. Von Stroheim and his few faithful cohorts could quite honestly say that the picture as he filmed it was never released. The studio also alibied that Greed never stood a chance of success as a product from a studio noted for creating stars. There were no box-office names in Greed. The cast was hand-chosen by von Stroheim himself—ZaSu Pitts, Gibson Gowland, and Jean Hersholt, who had never brought in a dime on their own. They were more often featured in comedies, as were fellow cast members Dale Fuller, Chester Conklin, and Hughie Mack, and Greed was certainly no comedy.
A few years later, when von Stroheim had chalked up a few more disasters, he abandoned his directorial career for a successful one as an actor. He had often played in some of his own pictures, but as an actor he is a recognizable star in Renoir's La grande illusion and in Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard.
A vice, and one of the capital sins, consisting in excessive appetite for wealth; it is directly opposed, by defect, to the virtue of liberality, which controls desire for possessions, and is indirectly subversive of many other virtues. While earthly wealth in itself can be considered a good thing and even a blessing from God, it is also a dangerous thing, and the inordinate desire of it or excessive preoccupation with acquiring it is dangerous. Christ condemned avarice "because a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Lk 12.15). If a man lives primarily for riches, he will have no part in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19.24) "for you cannot serve God and Mammon" (Mt 6.24; Lk 16.13). Avarice in its extreme form would occur in the case of an individual who attaches such value to wealth and possessions that he makes the accumulation and retention of them the major goal of his life, to which he subordinates all else. Such a perversion of values would obviously be mortally sinful and totally disruptive of the moral life. So basically disordered a desire for wealth, however, is probably a rare thing, occurring only in the true miser, whose preoccupation with money is so manifestly foolish that it must be explained in terms of some deep distortion of the psyche. But an individual's unreasonable pursuit of riches does not not necessarily mean that he makes an ultimate goal of them. He may seek wealth for what he gets by means of it. Money can buy gratification of many kinds— pleasures, fame, power, the envy of others, etc.—and those immoderately dedicated to gathering riches may also be lavish in their expenditures, which indicates that the wealth is sought as a means rather than an end. But this can also involve a perversion of values more or less seriously sinful depending on the objectives that are sought through wealth or the good things that are sacrificed in its pursuit. Evidently, too, avarice can be seriously sinful when it is so uncontrolled as to cause one to sin gravely against other virtues, such as justice or charity. The error of attaching too great an importance to wealth is generally committed in the practical rather than the theoretical order. St. Thomas Aquinas called it an error of common (vulgares ) men, but the "common" is to be understood in distinction to philosophers and not as implying that the fault is more prevalent among rude and uncultured folk. Indeed, primitive peoples, and generally those whose culture is unsophisticated, tend to be more content with their relative indigence, and even to lack something of the auri sacra fames (the accursed love of gold) of which Vergil spoke (Aeneid 3.57). In a more complex society, particularly one based economically on the principle of individual competition, men feel the need of reassurance against their fears of hostility, failure, and insecurity, and too often it is sought in an intensified quest for possessions (see K. Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time [New York 1937] ch. 10).
In earlier times avarice was considered a more reprehensible moral fault than prodigality, which is its opposite extreme (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 19.3). The latter was deemed to stand nearer to, or to have more affinity with, the mean, which is liberality, than the former, as is apparent in the terms themselves: one who gives too freely has a greater likeness to the ideally liberal man than another who gives too sparingly. In later times when bourgeois thinking had dignified trade and moneymaking with ethical or near-ethical values, the virtuous mean shifted in popular thought from a position nearer the extreme of prodigality to one more closely approaching avarice. The older term "liberality" accordingly became less appropriate and was largely replaced in popular use by "thrift" and "frugality." But in the more recent stage of the economic development of society the encouragement of consumption is seen as desirable for the stimulation of industry and production. Thrift and frugality have therefore lost something of the respectability they formerly enjoyed. Nevertheless this does not appear to have resulted in a new shift in the mean popularly considered desirable between avarice and prodigality, so much as in a change in the relative values assigned to different kinds of possessions an individual will desire—for example, consumer goods, such as homes, cars, appliances, which give comfort and status to the possessor, as compared with money.
St. Thomas noted that the inclination to avarice tends to grow stronger in the aged. Because their strength and prospects are diminishing, it may seem more urgent to them to compensate for this deficiency by storing up external goods and holding onto them more tenaciously.
See Also: poverty, religious.
Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 118.1–8. a. beugnet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 1.2:2623–27. r. h. tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Baltimore 1947; New York 1958). g. vann, "Money," Furrow 13 (1962) 151–159.
[p. k. meagher]
307. Greed (See also Stinginess.)
- Almayer’s Folly lust for gold leads to decline. [Br. Lit.: Almayer’s Folly ]
- Alonso Shakespearean symbol of avarice. [Br. Lit.: The Tempest ]
- Béline fans husband’s hypochondria to get his money. [Fr. Lit.: Le Malade Imaginaire ]
- Barak’s wife agrees to sell shadow, symbol of her fertility. [Aust. Opera: R. Strauss, Woman Without a Shadow, Westerman, 432]
- Brown, Joe turns in partner Joe Christmas for reward money. [Am. Lit.: Light in August ]
- Common Lot, The the get-rich-quick club. [Am. Lit.: The Common Lot, Hart, 369]
- Crawley, Pitt inherits, marries, and hoards money. [Br. Lit.: Vanity Fair ]
- Eugénie Grandet wealth as raison d’être. [Fr. Lit.: Eugenie Grandet, Magill I, 258–260]
- Financier, The riches as raison d’être. [Am. Lit.: The Financier, Magill I, 280–282]
- Gehazi behind master’s back, takes money he declined. [O.T.: II Kings 5:21–22]
- Griffiths, Clyde insatiable desire for wealth causes his downfall. [Am. Lit.: An American Tragedy ]
- Hoard, Walkadine hastily marries courtesan posing as wealthy widow. [Br. Lit.: A Trick to Catch the Old One ]
- Kibroth-hattaavah Hebrew place name: where greedy were buried. [O.T.: Numbers, 11:33–35]
- Lucre, Pecunious duped into succoring profligate nephew by lure of a fortune. [Br. Lit.: A Trick To Catch the Old One ]
- Mammon avaricious fallen angel. [Br. Lit.: Paradise Lost ]
- Mammon, Sir Epicure avaricious knight; seeks philosopher’s stone for Midas touch. [Br. Lit.: The Alchemist ]
- Mansion, The shows material advantages of respectability winning over kinship. [Am. Lit.: The Mansion, Hart, 520]
- Midas greedy king whose touch turned everything to gold. [Classical Myth.: Bulfinch, 42–44]
- Montgomery mercenary chief proverbially kept for himself all the booty. [Fr. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 618]
- Naboth’s Vineyard another’s possession gotten, by hook or crook. [O.T.: I Kings, 21]
- New Grub Street place of ruthless contest among moneymongers. [Br. Lit.: New Grub Street, Magill I, 647–649]
- Osmond, Gilbert marries Isabel Archer for her money. [Am. Lit.: The Portrait of a Lady, Magill I, 766–768]
- Overreach, Sir Giles grasping usurer, unscrupulous and ambitious. [Br. Lit.: A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Wheeler, 275]
- Pardoner’s Tale three brothers kill each other for treasure. [Br. Lit.: Canterbury Tales, “Pardoner’s Tale”]
- pig medieval symbol of avarice. [Art: Hall, 247]
- Putnam, Abbie marries old man in anticipation of inheritance. [Am. Lit.: Desire Under the Elms ]
- Scrooge, Ebenezer byword for greedy miser. [Br. Lit.: A Christmas Carol ]
- Sisyphus condemned to impossible task for his avarice. [Gk. Myth.: Wheeler, 1011]
The bowdlerization of Erich von Stroheim's Greed (1924) is almost more famous than the film itself. An adaptation of McTeague, Frank Norris' epic novel of avarice, desire, and disintegration, it stars Gibson Gowland as the dentist McTeague, ZaSu Pitts as the wife he murders for money, and Jean Hersholt as the brute Marcus with whom he fights to their mutual destruction in Death Valley. In realizing a cherished dream to do literal justice to the book, Stroheim broke new ground in cinematic realism, both in characterization and the use of actual locations in San Francisco and Death Valley, but emerged with a 42-reel, ten-hour film. Producer Irving Thalberg, the director's nemesis with whom he had previously tangled, ordered cuts and Stroheim tried to oblige. The film, however, was taken away from him and the cuts became a massacre. The final release version was a little short of two hours, with much careful detail lost and the dramatic balance seriously upset by the removal of sub-plots and subsidiary characters. Nonetheless, Greed remains a powerful masterpiece of the silent cinema from one of the medium's few geniuses.
Koszarski, R. The Man You Love to Hate. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press, 1983.
Roud, Richard. Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. London, Secker & Warburg, 1980.
Greed ★★★★ 1924
A wife's obsession with money drives her husband to murder. Although the original version's length (eight hours) was trimmed to 140 minutes, it remains one of the greatest and most highly acclaimed silent films ever made. Effective use of Death Valley locations. Adapted from the Frank Norris novel, “McTeague.” 140m/B VHS . Dale Fuller, Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt, Chester Conklin; D: Erich von Stroheim. Natl. Film Reg. ‘91.
greed / grēd/ • n. intense and selfish desire for something, esp. wealth, power, or food.
av·a·rice / ˈavəris/ • n. extreme greed for wealth or material gain.