I've been waiting for this for awhile. The reason why: because I used to own Greed on VHS, but sold it off back when my last VCR broke, never anticipating the time would come when VHS could be easily transferred to DVD-R (that same statement holds for about 600 other classic VHS tapes that I sold off at the same time). Infamous for its butchery from 9-plus hours, I still loved the film when I saw the 239 minute 1999 restoration; however I lost most of my sympathies towards von Stroheim at the same time.
Greed is based on the naturalist novel McTeague, written by Frank Norris, published in 1899. I had to read McTeague when I was in college, but did so without the professor ever mentioning Greed or von Stroheim (how could he not?). While I'm sure the novel had been mentioned in any article I'd read about Greed previous to my school years, I'm also quite sure that that info had slipped from my mind at any time before I actually read it myself. In other words, before I had my established point of reference. And so I read McTeague without realizing it had anything whatsoever to do with Greed and it became, if not my favorite, one of my top 2 or 3 favorite pieces of literature read during those years. I still keep my dog-eared copy visible on a book shelf.
When my focus eventually turned to classic film and I was busy amassing those many hundreds of VHS tapes I popped Greed in not really knowing what to expect other than a long night. It didn't take long for me to realize what I was watching. Not only was I watching McTeague I was watching it scene for scene. That's how I recall it, though obviously with 5 hours or so of action clipped a lot was missing, but at least in the restored version von Stroheim was allowed to hit on most of Norris' key points and pivotal scenes.
In the end my sympathies wound up transferring to Mayer, Thalberg and production on this one. I understand that what was released to theaters in the twenties was a much lighter version, closer to 120 minutes, but seeing what I've seen my conclusion is that von Stroheim's key contribution was in bringing Norris' vision to life. I kind of frown upon the temperamental von Stroheim now for apparently lacking the creativity to know which scenes to trim in order to tailor McTeague into a more commercial run time himself. Surely he had to have an idea of what was going to happen. No doubt the remaining several hours of lost footage would be vastly entertaining, but entirely unnecessary and thus I don't miss them as much as I used to. They're all inside Norris' book which you can now read with images of Gibson Gowland and ZaSu Pitts in mind.
Pitts, by the way, is the one who should be celebrated in the aftermath of Greed. Crazy ZaSu, who we saw recently on TCM running around in short sketches with Thelma Todd, whose talkie talents ran pretty much exclusively to the screwiest brand of screwball comedy, gives one of the best dramatic performances of the silent era. Her Trina is an gold obsessed and possessed maniac and her portrayal becomes frightening at times, just look at her up above!
Enjoy the movie ... my cable and recorders better not screw this one up on me!
Complete Erich von Stroheim TCM Schedule, November 22, 2010
Directed by von Stroheim:
6:00 am The Merry Widow (1925) starring Mae Murray, John Gilbert, Roy D'Arcy
8:30 am Greed (1924) starring Gibson Gowland, ZaSu Pitts, Jean Hersholt
von Stroheim in the Cast:
1:00 pm Friends and Lovers (1931) starring Adolphe Menjou, Lily Damita, Laurence Olivier
2:30 pm The Lost Squadron (1932) starring Richard Dix, Mary Astor, Robert Armstrong
4:00 pm The North Star (1943) starring Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston
6:00 pm Sunset Boulevard (1950) starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim
8:00 pm Five Graves to Cairo (1943) starring Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Tamiroff
Five Graves to Cairo is actually the first of four choices from Guest Programmer Bill Hader on the Prime Time schedule, however; it also features von Stroheim (as Rommel!) so I've included it with the daytime schedule.