Genre: Drama
Originally running an astonishing 10 hours when it was produced in 1925, Greed suffered one of Hollywood's unkindest cuts. Much to the devastation of its Austrian creator, Eric von Stroheim, MGM slaughtered his ambitious silent epic based on Frank Norris' solemn novel, McTeague, reducing it from 42 reels to 10 with a running time of just over two hours (von Stroheim broke down upon watching the finished piece). Yet, it's a testament to the director's vision and talent that the surviving version of Greed remains one of cinema's timeless masterpieces. Sure, its plot-examining the destructive effects that a large lottery payoff has on three close friends feels stilted and awkward at times. But there's enough brilliance to shield any minor quibbles. The restrained, subtle acting, the cynical attitude toward wealth and excess, and especially the bitter, claustrophobic portrayal of a selfish marriage between the Gibson Gowland and ZaSu Pitts characters all retain freshness and seem remarkably contemporary even now. Von Stroheim digs at his characters' weaknesses with ferocious irony, exposing recurring hypocrisy and ugliness whenever money enters the picture. Visually, the director understood the thematic importance of setting his characters against contrasting landscapes, and Greed was among the first films shot almost entirely on location. As it moves from the buzzing, crowded streets of San Francisco to the haunting last images in the desolate wasteland of Death Valley--a place where money has no value--von Stroheim's ruthless satire demolishes everything American in its path. --Dave McCoy

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