Greed is a 1924 American dramatic silent film. It was directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt, Dale Fuller, Tempe Pigott, Sylvia Ashton, Chester Conklin, Joan Standing and Jack Curtis.
The plot follows a dentist whose wife wins a lottery ticket, only to become obsessed with money. When her former lover betrays the dentist as a fraud, all of their lives are destroyed. The movie was adapted by von Stroheim (shooting screenplay) and Joseph Farnham (titles) from the 1899 novel McTeague by Frank Norris. (The onscreen writing credit for June Mathis was strictly a contractual obligation to her on the part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the parent studio), as she was not actually involved in the production.) Originally over ten hours long, Greed was ultimately edited against von Stroheim's permission to about two and a half hours, and the full-length version is a lost film.
The story of the making of the movie has become a Hollywood legend. The story had been filmed once before by an American film studio, William A. Brady's World Pictures, in 1916 under the title McTeague starring Broadway star Holbrook Blinn. Under the aegis of the Goldwyn studio, von Stroheim attempted to film a version of the book complete in every detail. To capture the authentic spirit of the story, he insisted on filming on location in San Francisco, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Death Valley, despite harsh conditions.
The result was a final print of the film that was an astonishing ten hours in length, produced at a cost of over $500,000 — one of the most costly films yet made (though Stroheim's 1921 film Foolish Wives was publicized by Universal as costing over a million). Realizing it was far too long to be shown, Stroheim cut it down to six hours, to be screened with intermissions in two nights. However, Goldwyn producers told him to cut it to a more manageable length. With the assistance of fellow director Rex Ingram and editor Grant Whytock, von Stroheim trimmed the film to about four hours, to be shown in two parts.
However, during production, Goldwyn was merged into MGM. After screening it at full length once to meet contractual obligations, MGM removed Greed from von Stroheim's control despite his protests. The negative was given to MGM's head scriptwriter, June Mathis, with orders to cut it even further. Mathis gave the print to a routine cutter, who reduced it to 2.5 hours. In the process, key characters were removed from the final version so that it could be screened in a reasonable time frame. This created large gaps in continuity. Existing prints of Greed run at about two hours and twenty minutes.
Although Mathis' actual involvement in the cutting has never been confirmed, she was credited as a writer due to contractual obligations, and thus Stroheim blamed her for destroying his masterpiece. However, Mathis had worked with Stroheim before and had long admired him, so it is not likely she would have indiscriminately butchered his film.
The hours of cut film were destroyed by a janitor cleaning a vault who thought they were unimportant film rolls and threw them in an incinerator (although it appears that much of it survived until at least the late 1950s) , and this film is known as one of the most famous "lost films" in cinema history. The released version of the film was a box-office failure; panned by critics and angrily disowned by von Stroheim. In later years, even in its shortened form, it was recognized as one of the great realistic films of its time. Rare behind-the-scenes footage of Greed can be seen in the Goldwyn Pictures film Souls for Sale.
In 1999, Turner Entertainment (the film's current rights holder) decided to "recreate", as closely as possible, the original version by combining the existing footage with still photographs of the lost scenes, in accordance with an original continuity outline written by von Stroheim. This restoration runs almost four hours. The re-edit was produced by Rick Schmidlin. (Other classic films with missing footage include Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, George Cukor's A Star Is Born and von Stroheim's Queen Kelly). In 1991, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"
Gibson Gowland as John McTeague
ZaSu Pitts as Trina
Jean Hersholt as Marcus
Dale Fuller as Maria
Tempe Pigott as McTeague's mother
Jack Curtis as McTeague's father (uncredited)
Silvia Ashton as 'Mommer' Sieppe
Chester Conklin as 'Popper' Sieppe
Joan Standing as Selina
Trina and McTeague
James F. Fulton as Prospector Cribbens
Cesare Gravina as Junkman Zwerkow
Frank Hayes as Charles W. Grannis (The Modern Dog Hospital proprietor)
Austen Jewell as August Sieppe
Hughie Mack as Mr. Heise (harness maker)
Tiny Jones as Mrs. Heise
J. Aldrich Libbey as Mr. Ryer
Reta Revela as Mrs. Ryer
Fanny Midgley as Miss Anastasia Baker
S.S. Simon as Joe Frenna
Max Tyron as Uncle Rudolph Oelbermann
Erich von Ritzau as Dr. Painless Potter
William Mollenhauer as Palmist
William Barlow as The Minister
Lita Chevrier as Extra
Edward Gaffney as Extra
Bee Ho Gray as Extra and Knife Thrower used in saloon scene
Harold Henderson as Extra
Florence Gibson as Hag
James Gibson as Deputy
Oscar Gottell as A Sieppe twin
Otto Gottell as A Sieppe twin
Hugh J. McCauley as Photographer
Jack McDonald as Placer County Sheriff
Lon Poff as Man from the Lottery Company
Erich von Stroheim as Balloon vendor
James Wang as Chinese cook