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Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Jul 8 1998
Erich von Stroheim's blasted masterpiece Greed survives today only in the 10-reel version released by MGM in 1924. Originally filmed as a painstaking scene-by-scene translation of Frank Norris' novel McTeague, about a dentist gone mad for lust of gold, Greed when completed ran well over eight hours. What we can see today runs just two. Even in truncated form Greed impresses enormously, as an ultrarealist expose of American aspirations at their grubbiest. Many scenes are indelible, from the dull-witted McTeague's encounter with his lady love Trina as she lies passed out in his dentist chair through to the film's Death Valley finale, filmed in scorching heat and looking it.

The cloddish Gibson Gowland occupies the lead role like a lead weight, while Zasu Pitts con-tributes one of the screen's great performances as Trina, fluttery comedienne turned unraveling tragedienne. Stroheim was shrewdly aware that comedy is created by the homely and unlucky, the very subject of his film -- and so in fact his entire cast is filled out with actors like Pitts, Jean Hersholt, Chester Conklin, and Hughie Mack, all normally used as light relief. MGM's heavy hand can be seen in such ludicrous titles as "Let's go over and sit on the sewer." Even so, Greed registers as Stroheim's best work, and one of the greatest of all films, as both a documentary X-ray of avarice as a social disease and as a surrealist masterpiece, so extreme are the emotions conveyed. The amazing, deep-focus location footage of San Francisco and environs is a nice bonus for local viewers.

-- Gregg Rickman

Greed screens Sunday, July 12, at 2 and 7 p.m., with live organ accompaniment by Dennis James, at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120.

About The Author

Gregg Rickman


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