It's called Death Valley for a reason.
A 1924 silent film directed by Erich von Stroheim
, based on the novel McTeague
by Frank Norris. John McTeague (Gibson Gowland) is a miner in the California gold country. A visiting dentist inspires McTeague to try something new, and the dentist takes him on as an apprentice. McTeague eventually settles down as a dentist in San Francisco. McTeague's friend Marcus (Jean Hersholt) brings his girlfriend Trina (Zasu Pitts) to McTeague as a patient. Marcus nobly steps aside when McTeague falls in love with Trina. McTeague and Trina are married.
In the meantime, Trina has bought a lottery ticket. Said ticket hits for five thousand dollars. Marcus becomes bitter at missing out on the money and has a falling out with McTeague. Trina for her part zealously guards the $5000, refusing to spend a dime. She still won't spend any of it after Marcus rats out McTeague for practicing dentistry without a license, leaving the couple destitute. The McTeagues' formerly intimate marriage dissolves in hatred. Eventually McTeague murders Trina and takes off with the $5000, fleeing to Death Valley, but Marcus is determined to track him down.Greed
is remembered as much for what it isn't as for what it is. Von Stroheim's original cut was forty-two reels
, or nearly eight hours. Von Stroheim tried to talk the producers into showing the film in multiple parts, but eventually turned in a four-hour cut. MGM
eventually took the film out of von Stroheim's hands and released it with a running time of about two and a half hours. The shortened film was a flop, panned by critics and disowned by its director
. It has, however, been Vindicated by History
, and is commonly considered one of the masterpieces of silent cinema. The four-hour Director's Cut
is sometimes called the "Holy Grail" of film archivists. No copy of the deleted footage
has ever been found.
This film provides examples of:
- Downer Ending: McTeague beats Trina to death, and the film ends with him stuck in Death Valley, chained to a corpse.
- Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: McTeague feels up Trina while she's out cold in his dentist's chair.
- Executive Meddling: This film was a victim of this.
- Epic Movie: Certainly in its original form. Even the surviving cut has an epic feel, with location shooting in San Francisco and Death Valley that was very unusual for The Twenties.
- The Film of the Book
- Gold Fever: As usual, not a good thing.
- Lost Forever: Large portions of this originally 8 hour film were cut and thrown away by the producers.
- Love Triangle: Gone horribly wrong, as Marcus seeks revenge.
- Money Fetish / Pooled Funds: Trina dumps the gold coins on her bed and rolls around in them.
- Playing Against Type: ZaSu Pitts, primarily known for her comedic roles, as the doomed Trina.
- Re Cut: A "restored" version was released that combined the existing footage with still pictures from the production. It runs nearly four hours.
- Staggered Zoom: The chilling last shot, where the film zooms out to show McTeague handcuffed to a corpse in the middle of a desert.
- Thanatos Gambit: As McTeague beats him to death in the desert, Marcus handcuffs them together.
- Thirsty Desert: It's called Death Valley for a reason.
- Wanted Poster: This is pretty much all the segue there is from Trina's murder to the last sequence of McTeague fleeing into the desert. This is one of the biggest cuts in von Stroheim's film—a long section where McTeague goes back home to see his parents again was taken out of the movie.
- Worthless Yellow Rocks: You got the gold. Mazel tov. Too bad you're in the middle of a desert with no water and handcuffed to a dead guy.