Since it's often claimed that the greatest loss in the history of the cinema is the 32 reels that Metro cut from Erich Von Stroheim's "Greed" (1923), it is important to remember that the 10 that remain were enough to get it voted as one of the 12 best films of all time by an international jury at the Brussels Exposition of 1958. As tragic as the fate of "Greed" was, it remains, even in truncated form, timelessly dazzling. It is not a fragment but a fully rounded film, running 150 minutes in the version to be presented Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m. at the County Museum of Art.
In adapting Frank Norris' "McTeague" in a justly celebrated documentary-like style, Von Stroheim forsook his usual Ruritania to tell the working-class story of a San Francisco dentist, (Gibson Gowland), and the deceptively fragile-looking woman (Zasu Pitts) he marries. Pitts' realization of her terror of sex on her bridal night coincides with her winning $5,000 in a lottery, unleashing in her a lust for gold in place of sexual lust. "Greed," however, is not merely Freudian but a profound and tragic consideration of the interlocking of fate and character.
Von Stroheim returned to a lush Ruritania--a fictional Balkan principality--with his very free 1925 adaptation of the Franz Lehar operetta "The Merry Widow" (screening Friday at 8 at LACMA). Once again, there's a confrontation between American innocence, represented by touring Broadway showgirl Mae Murray, and European sophistication, in the person of playboy prince John Gilbert, whose true love for Murray is threatened by his slimy cousin (Roy D'Arcy).