There's not a glamour girl anywhere in sight in Greed, the picture that launched a thousand myths. The facts are almost as strange as the fiction. Erich von Stroheim was commissioned by Samuel Goldwyn to produce a movie version of Frank Norris' novel McTeague, a downbeat story about San Francisco's working poor. During 1924, von Stroheim spent nine months on location in San Francisco and Death Valley while making his epic, which he envisioned as a series of continuing features.
Along the way, however, Goldwyn sold his share of Metro-Goldwyn Pictures, and the new regime was horrified by the mammoth undertaking, which von Stroheim had edited to 42 reels. He then cut McTeague to 24 reels and refused to remove another frame. Rex Ingram, as a favor, cut it to 18 reels and then gave up. June Mathis carved it down to 10 reels, after which Joseph Farnham performed the final edit. The 10-reel version was released as Greed.
This photo, borrowed from the collection of film historian Robert Birchard, is especially rare because it was taken during the filming of a major subplot that vanished in toto when the film was being chopped down. Shown at left is Cesare Gravina, the 5'-tall light-opera star from Napoli, in character as the crazed junk dealer Zerkow. Von Stroheim, prince of perfectionists, readies Gravina for his close-up. Behind the camera is Benjamin F. Reynolds, ASC — von Stroheim's favorite of all of the great cinematographers working during that era. Not shown is the second cameraman, William H. Daniels, ASC. The still was shot by Warren Lynch, later a noted special effects cinematographer and ASC member.
Even in its truncated form, Greed is considered to be von Stroheim's masterpiece. It is understandably chaotic, with a number of unexpected changes of costume or setting. Strangely, nobody ever mentions some of von Stroheim's own lapses, but a few are evident. When McTeague (Gibson Gowland) throws a man off a cliff, the dummy that takes the fall is so floppy and lightweight that Ed Wood would have refused it. And after McTeague and Marcus (Jean Hersholt) fight in the desert, the "dead" Marcus continues panting and heaving from his exertions through a long scene.
Many writers insist that a third cinematographer, Ernest B. Schoedsack, worked on Greed. When we asked Schoedsack about this, however, his reply was, "Hell, no! I was in Persia making Grass all that year."