Tag Archives: ZaSu Pitts

Greed (1924)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Greed</strong> (1924)

(On Cable TV, April 2018) Diving into classic movies is often best done in stages: some of it is accessible to modern audiences, some of it takes a little bit more work and sympathy and some of it will frankly bore the pants off casual viewers. Knowing this, I’m convinced that I have seen the reconstructed four-hour-long version of Greed far too early in my development as a classic movie fan. The back story is worth explaining: 1924’s Greed is widely acknowledged as one of the finest dramatic films of the silent era and a masterpiece for screenwriter/director Erich von Stroheim. But the 140-minute version that has been shown on-screen since the 1924 is reportedly a mere shadow of the 462 minutes of the lost original director’s cut. In 2012, however, film experts reconstructed a 239-minutes version of the film using the original script and photos taken during the production of the film. That reconstruction was the version I saw and, well, it maximized all of my issues with silent movies: The pacing is mortally slow, the use of photos (zoomed, cropped, panned) as placeholders for missing scenes is jarring and the new material did seem extraneous from the bulk of the story. It takes a lot to convince me to sit down to watch a four-hour movie, and Greed did not match that level of interest. This being said, I can see why this version would be interesting to someone already fascinated by the movie. Alas, this strikes me as Greed 201 rather than the 101-level lesson I’m ready to digest at this point. All of this being said, there’s quite a bit that I liked about even this interminable version of the film. The story is complex and strong, being adapted from a novel, and it does explore its central theme with the cleverness we’d expect from more contemporary examples. The writing of the title cards is a noticeable cut above most silent films, being sometimes reprinted from literary material. Gibson Gowland makes quite an impression as the protagonist of the story: it’s not a good impression (“punchable face” comes to mind), but his is not a good character either. Meanwhile, ZaSu Pitts looks like an alien with her wide eyes and unusual hairdo—hers isn’t a good-natured character either, and the drama she creates is tragic. Strong actors, a strong script and some really interesting period detail make for a film with definite strengths, but I have the clear impression that I would have enjoyed the cut-down version more. Thanks, TCM, I guess, for providing more than I needed—but I’ll get more out of the reconstructed Greed whenever I’ll be more familiar with 1920s cinema.