The career of Austrian-born director Erich von Stroheim is notorious for the level of interference he suffered from his Hollywood employers. Greed is the most infamously broken-backed of his films, originally screened in a version close to ten hours long but nervously hacked down by the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio to conventional length.
Adapting the 1899 novel McTeague by Frank Norris about the downfall of a lottery-winning woman and the two best friends who love her, Von Stroheim aimed to render the book in complete detail, allowing screen time to develop characters of startling psychological intensity. Expensively, he also insisted on shooting on location, including in the debilitating heat of Death Valley for the film’s tragic climax. Though the bulk of Greed is lost, what remains is considered a milestone for its powerful fusion of naturalism and melodrama.