|"...I saw a wonderful picture the other day -- that no one else will ever see. It was the unslaughtered version of Erich von Stroheim's GREED. It was a magnificent piece of work, but it was forty-five reels long. We went into the projecting-room at 10:30 in the morning; we staggered out at 8:00 that night. I can't imagine what they are going to do with it... For stark, terrible realism and marvelous artistry, it is the greatest picture I have ever seen..."
Excerpt from "On the Camera Coast with Harry Carr," Motion Picture Magazine, April 1924, pg.76
What will they do with it, indeed. At a time when the frothy concoctions of Lubitsch and the guilty pleasures of deMille were box-office gold, von Stroheim's film of corruption and degradation came as a major shock, not only to audiences expecting "entertainment" but certainly to his studio. After nine months and 200,000 feet of film, the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn Studio found itself with a nine-hour film of unrelenting degeneracy and tragedy -- decidedly un-box-office material.
|"GREED, the screen adaptation of the Frank Norris story "McTeague," opened at the Cosmopolitan last Thursday night for a run. Metro-Goldwyn presented the picture with Louis B. Mayer acting as sponsor for the production.
It was directed by Erich von Stroheim, and the possibilities are that the director himself selected the story. Nothing more morbid and senseless from a commercial picture standpoint has been on the screen in a long time than this picture. Long awaited, von Stroheim having utilized two years and over $200,000 of Goldwyn and possibly some Metro money in its making, it came as a distinct shock to those viewing it.
Never has there been a more out-and-out box office flop shown on the screen than this picture. Even D. W. Griffith's rather depressing "Isn't Life Wonderful?" is a howling comedy success when compared to GREED. Metro-Goldwyn will never get the money that was put in this picture out of it, and the exhibitors that play it will have a heck of a time to get back via the box office route what they pay out in rentals for the picture.
On this picture von Stroheim shot 130 reels of stuff in the two years. He finally cut it to 26 reels and told the Metro-Goldwyn executives that was the best he could do. It was then taken into hand and cut to 10 reels, and as such registered a decisive and distinct flop at the Cosmopolitan Thursday night.
It is a cinch that there isn't going to be a mob clamoring at the door of the Cosmopolitan comprising mothers and fathers who are taking their children to the theatre to give them a good time. After all, the province of the theatre is to provide amusement and entertainment, but GREED provides neither.
True, there may be a moral, but it applies to wives only, to the effect wives should not be miserly, greedy, or money-crazed, and with it consequently intolerant of a husband's welfare.
From the artistic angle, there is no question but that at directing von Stroheim is a wizard as to detail. His little intimate touches are little short of remarkable, but what of it if the story in which they are employed is such that it offends rather than entertains?"
...There is this about the picture, however: It brings to light three great character performances by Gibson Gowland as McTeague, Jean Hersholt as the chum, and Zasu as the wife. Those three players as types are made for all time as far as the screen is concerned. Each individually scored a tremendous personal success...
But GREED will never get a cent at the box office commensurate with the time and money put into the picture."
"Fred," Variety, Wednesday, December 10, 1924
von Stroheim liked to tell the story of how, when he was living in a ramshackle apartment building, he found a copy of Frank Norris' McTeague, apparently left behind by a previous tenant. With not much else to do, he picked up the book and found himself riveted to the novel, unable to put it down, reading it all in one night.
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