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HISTORY

The film begins with a passage from the novel McTeague: “ ‘I never truckled; I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. By God, I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the truth; I knew it for the truth then, and I know it for the truth now.’ Frank Norris.”
       The following acknowledgment appears in opening credits: “Dedicated to my mother.”
       An opening title card identifies the time and place as “The Big Dipper Gold Mine, Placer County, California. A.D. 1908.” The wanted poster for "John McTeague" displayed near the end of the film reveals that "Trina’s" murder took place fourteen years later, in late Dec 1922. However, Frank Norris’s McTeague, published in 1899, took place in the late nineteenth century.
       The 30 Dec 1922 Moving Picture World and 27 Jan 1923 Exhibitors Trade Review noted that as soon as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed a long-term contract with director Erich von Stroheim, he went to San Francisco, CA, to write the continuity for his first production, based on Norris’s realistic novel, McTeague. As part of the deal, the studio also purchased the musical comedy The Merry Widow (1925, see entry) for von Stroheim’s second project. According to M-G-M advertisements in the 10 Feb 1923 Motion Picture News and 3 Mar 1923 Exhibitors Trade Review, as well as items in several other magazines, including the 19 Feb 1923 FD, the studio’s early title for Greed was Greedy Wives, ... More Less

The film begins with a passage from the novel McTeague: “ ‘I never truckled; I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. By God, I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the truth; I knew it for the truth then, and I know it for the truth now.’ Frank Norris.”
       The following acknowledgment appears in opening credits: “Dedicated to my mother.”
       An opening title card identifies the time and place as “The Big Dipper Gold Mine, Placer County, California. A.D. 1908.” The wanted poster for "John McTeague" displayed near the end of the film reveals that "Trina’s" murder took place fourteen years later, in late Dec 1922. However, Frank Norris’s McTeague, published in 1899, took place in the late nineteenth century.
       The 30 Dec 1922 Moving Picture World and 27 Jan 1923 Exhibitors Trade Review noted that as soon as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed a long-term contract with director Erich von Stroheim, he went to San Francisco, CA, to write the continuity for his first production, based on Norris’s realistic novel, McTeague. As part of the deal, the studio also purchased the musical comedy The Merry Widow (1925, see entry) for von Stroheim’s second project. According to M-G-M advertisements in the 10 Feb 1923 Motion Picture News and 3 Mar 1923 Exhibitors Trade Review, as well as items in several other magazines, including the 19 Feb 1923 FD, the studio’s early title for Greed was Greedy Wives, most likely inspired, perhaps facetiously, by von Stroheim’s previous film, Foolish Wives (1922, see entry).
       The Blue Book of the Screen for 1924 contained an article called “Realism” that discussed von Stroheim’s obsession with filming Greed on location, at or near the places Norris described in McTeague. The article stated that “not one single scene was produced or filmed in the studio.” Having first envisioned filming the book a decade earlier “against its original background,” von Stroheim scouted locations with his production manager and technical director two months before production began. Much of the story took place at a downtown building on Polk Street in San Francisco, where McTeague had both his dental parlor and living quarters, but that part of the city had burned down following the 1906 earthquake. Searching surviving neighborhoods, von Stroheim found and leased a late nineteenth-century building at 602 Hayes Street, at the corner of Laguna, “that fitted in exact detail with the building Norris described.” His staff changed the 1923 storefronts to resemble those of thirty years earlier (despite von Stroheim’s decision to move the story into the twentieth century), and remodeled the rooms to fit the story. A vacant lot on an adjoining alley provided a place for von Stroheim to construct “one of the picture’s few artificial settings—the junk yard,” including the owner’s hovel and “a tremendous amount of real junk.” (The junkyard and its owner, “Zerkow,” the husband of the janitress “Maria” who sold “Trina” the lottery ticket, were ultimately excised from the final release.)
       The 7 Apr 1923 Motion Picture News announced that filming began on Wednesday, 28 Mar 1923. On one day alone, according to the 23 Jun 1923 Camera, von Stroheim filmed over thirty “script scenes” between nine A.M. and two A.M. the following morning. Among San Francisco’s landmarks used in the production were the 1909 Cliff House and nearby Seal Rocks at the northern end of Ocean Beach, the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, Market Street, and the original San Francisco Orpheum Theatre on O’Farrell Street, the 12 May 1923 Camera noted.
       From San Francisco, the production moved across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, CA, where they used the Southern Pacific Railroad’s B Street Station, found a small cottage of the type Norris described as belonging to the “Sieppe” family, and picked the city’s Shell Mound Park to stage a picnic sequence at which the main characters, McTeague and “Marcus Schouler,” had a fist fight. (Jean Hersholt, who portrayed Marcus, was accidentally knocked unconscious during the scene and rushed to the hospital, but quickly recovered, according to the 23 Jun 1923 Camera. The scene was edited out of the film before its release.) An item in the 11 Aug 1923 Camera reported that the company recently finished the San Francisco-Oakland portion of the film after four-and-a-half months. One of von Stroheim’s scouting parties discovered that the Big Dipper mine near the town of Colfax in Placer County, CA, had barely changed since Norris wrote about it, and another found that Keeler, CA, a little Inyo County mountain town where McTeague hid out before escaping into Death Valley, was similarly unchanged, so the production used both locations. However, von Stroheim’s obsession for realism became a problem in Death Valley itself. According to an article in the Jan 1925 Motion Picture Magazine called “Thru Death Valley with von Stroheim,” the director was warned by the studio and its insurance company to avoid filming in the United States’ hottest and most inhospitable place, where thousands of prospectors, explorers, and travelers had perished over the years. Von Stroheim reportedly told executives, “Do you think that to make this picture I’ll drag some sand into the studio, put my actors before the camera, and say, ‘You’re out in a desert, old chappie—frightfully uncomfortable, you know. You’re dying of heat and thirst; tarantulas are crawling over you. Look the part, old fellow; register agony.” He demanded that his cast and crew “follow McTeague’s flight into Death Valley.” To get an establishing shot, the crew scaled Sheep’s Mountain to a spot eight thousand feet above the desert floor. Then, they entered Death Valley over the “Emigrant Trail.” The fight to the death between McTeague and Marcus was filmed at “the Sink,” the lowest spot on earth not covered with water, 337 feet below sea level, in the month of August. Since Death Valley well water was poisonous because of arsenic, an airplane dropped a cast-iron tank of water, which had to be given out in small measures and guarded by two armed men “to beat back the crazed members of our party.”
       The final scenes were filmed at the Big Dipper gold mine in Placer County, where von Stroheim cinematically captured how rocks were crushed and gold extracted, the Dec 1923 Motion Picture Magazine noted. While shooting there, the cast and crew of ninety-three men “were pressed into service by the Fire Marshall” to fight a huge forest fire approaching the mine, according to the 6 Oct 1923 Motion Picture News.
       The director’s attention to detail included McTeague’s dentistry practice. To insure that the scenes were correct, von Stroheim hired Dr. Henry Smulson, a “well-known San Francisco dentist,” as technical advisor, according to items in the 28 Apr 1923 and 5 May 1923 Camera.
       Von Stroheim also occasionally used live musicians to get his actors into a scene’s proper mood. The Dec 1924 Motion Picture Magazine mentioned that for one particularly atmospheric scene, the director told the musicians to play the score backwards. “The effect is all I want,” he said.
       The Dec 1923 Screenland announced that after seven months on location, the production exceeded the $1 million mark, and von Stroheim still had not returned to M-G-M Studios in Culver City, CA.
       In the 10 Nov 1923 Camera, von Stroheim blamed his mania for faithfully recreating the novel cinematically on the press and the viewing public, which routinely criticized Hollywood’s “mutilation of literature.” “I decided to make an absolutely literal film transposition of a novel that has been accepted as a classic of American literature,” he said. He made Greed “without a single important change, except [for] the title. I made it so that it could be said, ‘As Norris wrote it, so von Stroheim produced it.’” He promised to give up filmmaking if the public did not like the movie.
       M-G-M predicted a 25 Nov 1923 opening for Greed in a 22 Sep 1923 Camera news “flash,” adding that the film might premiere in San Francisco. The film would not have its premiere until more than a year later, in Dec 1924.
       The 20 Oct 1923 Camera reported that von Stroheim “barricaded himself in his cutting room at the Goldwyn studios,” where he worked sixteen hours at a time. He reduced his initial forty-two reels of film to twenty-four reels and then refused to cut any more. His friend, director Rex Ingram, further edited the film to eighteen reels. June Mathis then reduced the film to ten reels and added new titles. Jos. W. Farnham received screen credit as film editor.
       After nearly two years in production, Greed was set to have its world premiere on 4 Dec 1924 at New York City’s Cosmopolitan Theater, which William Randolph Hearst, president of Cosmopolitan Corporation, leased to M-G-M because he felt it was “absolutely the most powerful motion picture” he had ever seen, the 22 Nov 1924 Moving Picture World reported. Greed was the theater’s first non-Cosmopolitan motion picture presentation.
       Critics were generally impressed with the film. An article in the 3 Jan 1925 Moving Picture World detailed many of the New York newspaper reviews: The New York Journal called Greed “an epic of almost ruthless realism…It is a remarkable picture.” The New York Daily News deemed it “one of the most conspicuous pictures of all times,” while the New York Daily Mirror raved, “ Greed is a masterpiece.” Even the Feb 1925 Photoplay reviewer James R. Quirk had to temper his negative review with a sense of awe: “ Greed is sordid. Greed is depressing. Greed is brutal. Greed is shocking. It reeks with good acting and wonderful direction….Von Stroheim has emphasized the detail of a sordid story until it becomes almost repulsive. It is the realism of vulgarity to the nth degree, and if that is art, Von Stroheim has produced a masterpiece.” However, Quirk added that he gave Greed a place in the pages of Photoplay “only because of its news value.”
       In 1999, Greed was reissued in a 250-minute length, with added footage obtained from photographic stills taken on the set.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Camera
28 Apr 1923
p. 7.
Camera
5 May 1923
p. 10.
Camera
12 May 1923
p. 4.
Camera
23 Jun 1923
p. 6.
Camera
11 Aug 1923
p. 6.
Camera
22 Sep 1923
p. 6.
Camera
20 Oct 1923
p. 10.
Camera
10 Nov 1923
p. 14.
Exhibitors Herald
3 Mar 1923
p. 9.
Exhibitors Trade Review
27 Jan 1923
p. 447.
Exhibitors Trade Review
20 Dec 1924
p. 51.
Film Daily
19 Feb 1923
p. 6.
Film Daily
7 Dec 1924
p. 4.
Life
1 Jan 1925
p. 24.
Motion Picture Magazine
Dec 1923
p. 65.
Motion Picture Magazine
Dec 1924
p. 53.
Motion Picture Magazine
Jan 1925
pp. 20-21, 92.
Motion Picture News
10 Feb 1923
p. 661.
Motion Picture News
7 Apr 1923
p. 1671.
Motion Picture News
6 Oct 1923
p. 1684.
Motion Picture News
8 Dec 1923
p. 2687.
Moving Picture World
30 Dec 1922
p. 884.
Moving Picture World
31 Mar 1923
p. 369.
Moving Picture World
22 Nov 1924
p. 357.
Moving Picture World
6 Dec 1924
p. 559.
Moving Picture World
30 Dec 1924
p. 726
Moving Picture World
3 Jan 1925
p. 84.
New York Times
5 Dec 1924
p. 28.
New York Times
25 Jan 1925
p. 6.
Photoplay
1 Jan 1925
p. 27.
Photoplay
Feb 1925
p. 55.
Screenland
Dec 1923
p. 71.
The Blue Book of the Screen
1924
pp. 349-352.
Variety
10 Dec 1924
p. 34.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Louis B. Mayer presents
An Erich von Stroheim Production
Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation
Released through Metro-Goldwyn Distributing Corporation, controlled by Loew's Incorporated
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Personally dir by
Prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Scr adpt and scen by
Scr adpt and scen by
Titles
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTORS
Settings by
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Props
PRODUCTION MISC
Dental tech adv
Tech mgr
Asst tech dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
From the American Classic McTeague, by Frank Norris (New York, 1899).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Greedy Wives
Release Date:
26 January 1925
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 4 December 1924
Production Date:
began 28 March 1923
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
10 February 1925
Copyright Number:
LP21123
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Length(in feet):
10,067
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1908, John McTeague, a large man everyone calls “Mac,” works as a miner at the Big Dipper Gold Mine in Northern California. One day, as he nurses a wounded bird, another miner knocks it from his hands. Mac becomes enraged and throws the man from a rail trestle into a rocky creek below. When a dentist named “Painless” Potter comes to the camp, Mac’s mother arranges for him to leave his job and apprentice with the “doctor.” Over the next few years, Mac learns dentistry “after a fashion,” becomes “Doc” McTeague, and opens a practice on Polk Street in San Francisco, California. One day, Marcus Schouler, a friend who works nearby at a dog hospital, brings his cousin and “sweetie,” Trina Sieppe, to Mac for a dental examination. Mac determines that Trina needs a couple of teeth removed and a bridge to replace them. As Trina leaves on that first day, Mac’s cleaning lady, Maria, offers lottery tickets for $1 apiece, and Trina buys one. Later, as Mac puts Trina to sleep with ether, her vulnerability and the feel of her breath on his face overwhelms him. He kisses her, but is terrified by his moral weakness. When Mac finishes the job and Trina no longer comes, he misses her terribly. Marcus takes him to the Cliff House on the beach, where, after a couple of drinks, Mac confesses his love for Trina. Claiming to be Mac’s friend for life, Marcus agrees to step aside and let him have her. The following weekend, the two men take a train across the bay to Oakland, where Trina lives with her Swiss immigrant parents and several siblings. Mac and Marcus ... +


In 1908, John McTeague, a large man everyone calls “Mac,” works as a miner at the Big Dipper Gold Mine in Northern California. One day, as he nurses a wounded bird, another miner knocks it from his hands. Mac becomes enraged and throws the man from a rail trestle into a rocky creek below. When a dentist named “Painless” Potter comes to the camp, Mac’s mother arranges for him to leave his job and apprentice with the “doctor.” Over the next few years, Mac learns dentistry “after a fashion,” becomes “Doc” McTeague, and opens a practice on Polk Street in San Francisco, California. One day, Marcus Schouler, a friend who works nearby at a dog hospital, brings his cousin and “sweetie,” Trina Sieppe, to Mac for a dental examination. Mac determines that Trina needs a couple of teeth removed and a bridge to replace them. As Trina leaves on that first day, Mac’s cleaning lady, Maria, offers lottery tickets for $1 apiece, and Trina buys one. Later, as Mac puts Trina to sleep with ether, her vulnerability and the feel of her breath on his face overwhelms him. He kisses her, but is terrified by his moral weakness. When Mac finishes the job and Trina no longer comes, he misses her terribly. Marcus takes him to the Cliff House on the beach, where, after a couple of drinks, Mac confesses his love for Trina. Claiming to be Mac’s friend for life, Marcus agrees to step aside and let him have her. The following weekend, the two men take a train across the bay to Oakland, where Trina lives with her Swiss immigrant parents and several siblings. Mac and Marcus accompany the family to an amusement park for a picnic, and Mac considers it one of the best days of his life. Over the next few weeks, Mac visits Trina every Wednesday and Sunday. While sitting near the beach, they are caught in a sudden downpour and run for cover. Mac asks her to marry him, and although Trina resists, an awkward kiss convinces him that she will succumb. They become engaged. Family and friends celebrate the event at a vaudeville theater and have a banquet in Mac’s dental parlor. Maria and a man approach Trina to inform her that she has the winning $5,000 lottery ticket. That night, Marcus curses himself for giving up Trina and the money. A month later, Mac and Trina are married in his parlor, as a funeral procession goes by outside the window. They move into a former photographer’s room in the same building. Rather than being overjoyed by their financial windfall, Trina fears it will lead to extravagance, and her normal frugality becomes a passion. She refuses to buy a cottage Mac has found for them, because it costs too much. She also limits Mac’s visits to Joe Frenna’s saloon to once a week. One evening, a drunken Marcus asks Mac to repay the money and favors he gave him, and insists that since he arranged for Mac to marry Trina, he deserves some of the $5,000. Marcus throws a knife at Mac, and other men have to pull them apart. When Mac goes home, Trina calms his rage. Over time, she becomes more miserly and turns down her own mother’s request for $50. At night, Trina dreams of running her fingers through a pile of gold coins. One day, Marcus stops by, happy to see the couple and acting as if all is forgotten. He is going away and wants to say goodbye, and after he leaves, both Mac and Trina are happy he is gone. Soon afterward, a letter arrives from the California Board of Dental Examiners, demanding that Mac cease practicing without a license or face punishment. Trina instantly knows the source of their new problem, and Mac swears vengeance upon Marcus if he ever sees him again. As Mac’s dental business dries up, Trina whittles toys to sell, in order that she does not have to touch her hoard of gold coins. Mac works at a surgical instrument factory, but is soon fired, and despite Trina’s efforts to get him back to work, he becomes indolent and drinks. They fight over money. Although Trina demands that Mac look for a job, she refuses to give him a nickel for the streetcar. He gets caught in a downpour while walking and, soaking wet, hurries to Frenna’s saloon, where his friends take pity and buy him whiskey. Later, as Trina counts her gold coins, she becomes frightened when she hears Mac’s returning footsteps and hides them away. The drunken Mac is angry that she “made small of him,” and orders that from now on, Trina will give him whatever money he wants. They grow increasingly resentful of each other, until one night, after drinking at Frenna’s, Mac pinches Trina repeatedly and knocks her down. Later, as Mac leaves home with his fishing pole, Trina kisses him and suggests that he sell his beloved parakeets. Mac picks up the birdcage on his way out, and does not return. Finding work as a washwoman, Trina moves out of the apartment. Mac finds that among the furniture she left on the sidewalk is their wedding photograph, torn in half down the middle. Hungry and homeless, he goes to the window of Trina’s new apartment one night, asking for money, and she refuses. The next day, Mac breaks through his wife’s door and demands the $5,000. In a fury, he kills her, takes her bag of gold coins, and leaves San Francisco. Weeks later, the city chief of police issues “wanted posters” offering a $100 reward for Mac’s arrest and reporting that he was last seen in the mining town of Keeler, California. Mac packs a donkey and escapes into Death Valley. When Marcus Schouler sees the poster, he joins a posse in Keeler, claiming that Mac has stolen his $5,000. The sheriff decides to ride around Death Valley and avoid its brutal heat, so Marcus chooses to follow Mac’s trail and get the gold. Before Marcus leaves, the sheriff gives him a set of handcuffs. Riding into the desert, Marcus loses his horse to the heat and runs out of water, but treks onward until he finds Mac asleep. As he tries to get Mac’s canteen from the donkey, the animal bolts, forcing him to shoot it. One of the bullets pierces the canteen, and the last drops of water drain into the sand. As Mac and Marcus fight over the gold, Marcus cuffs their wrists together, but Mac fails to realize it until he kills his former friend. Doomed, Mac removes the cover from the parakeet cage hanging from the donkey and lets the surviving bird free. It is unable to fly in the heat. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.