Erich Von Stroheim

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Erich Von Stroheim is, along with Charlie Chaplin, one of the most famous directors of the 1920s and 1930s. Erich Von Stroheim ‘s life is surrounded by mystery and legend. The director was extremely reserved and always tried to leak as little information about himself as possible by publishing fake news and fake authorized biographies. He liked to tell lies, invent other personalities, such as being an Austrian nobleman ruined by gambling. He was actually the son of a Jewish hatter and was born in Austria.

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Erich Von Stroheim is together with Charlie Chaplin the director who leaves us a critical and merciless gaze on the society of the time, starting with sentimental and satirical films. Born in Vienna, Erich Von Stroheim arrives in Hollywood in 1909 and becomes David Griffith ‘s assistant from whom he learns a lot: the precision in the characterization of the characters, the taste for details and close-ups and the rhythm of editing. 

He works on the set of Intolerance and Hearts of the world, as assistant director. As an actor he begins to play different roles of aristocratic aristocrat and perfidious. One of the slogans to convince the public to go see his films will be “The man you will love to hate”.

Erich Von Stroheim becomes director

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Thanks to his talent for inventing characters even in real life, Erich Von Stroheim manages to convince the big studios that he is an intellectual aristocrat and is entrusted by Universal to direct his first film Blind Husbands, from 1918. The film tells of a love triangle, where he himself plays an official coward who courts the wife of an American. The scandalous story, full of corruption and eroticism, the talent of the interpreters, including the disagreeable Von Stroheim, decreed the great success of the film. 

He also works extensively as an actor specializing in the character of the rigid and dissolute military. In him there is the influence of Central European culture, decadence and naturalism. From the point of view of the images, his style is very close to pictorial expressionism

After the success of Blind Husbands Erich Von Stroheim had a smooth career ahead of him but his difficult and edgy character made it impossible for him to interact with producers. On the set, his attitude was dictatorial and created difficulties with the production and with the actors. Apparently his recurring hateful character in the movies and his real one in professional life coincided. 

The post-war crisis of values ​​influences Erich Von Stroheim’s vision of the world, to the point of making him grasp the most unhealthy, perverse and hypocritical side of the human being within social structures. In the films Blind Husbands and Crazy Females, he takes his naturalism to excess, for the representation of vices and corruption. 

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Erich Von Stroheim Producers’ number one enemy

Erich-von-Stroheim

Foolish wives is Erich Von Stroheim ‘s next film. A million dollar colossal, which tells a triangle of a Russian officer he plays himself, and two noblewomen his accomplices, set in Monte Carlo and with an original duration of over 3 hours. Many erotic scenes were cut from the production. Universal following the processing of the film is increasingly convinced that the excessive duration will lead the project to failure. He fires Stroheim after shooting and has another director finish editing the film. 

From then on, the clash between megalomaniac director Erich Von Stroheim and Hollywood studios will become legendary. Virtually all the films will be taken out of his hand to be completed according to the dictates of production by someone else. The next film, Merry-Go-Round, from 1922, was shot for a third by another director, due to Stroheim’s large budget overrun. 

Erich Von Stroheim’s characters are perhaps among the most corrupt and immoral in the history of cinema. Slowly he becomes the accursed director of Hollywood, whose films will always be opposed and brutally modified at the editing. 

Indeed, all of his projects from Greed of 1924 to Queen Kelly of 1928 have all been heavily transfigured by the production being edited and depart a lot from the works conceived by Erich Von Stroheim. Puritan America of the time could not tolerate his crude and violent films, which staged perversions and scandalous sexual drives.

The Films of Erich Von Stroheim

Blind Husbands (1919)

Blind Husbands (1919) is a silent American romantic drama film directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Sam De Grasse, Francelia Billington, and Erich von Stroheim. It is one of von Stroheim’s most famous works, and it is often considered one of the greatest silent films ever made.

Plot:

The film follows the story of an Austrian lieutenant named Erich von Steuben (von Stroheim) who travels to Cortina d’Ampezzo to climb the Dolomites. There, he meets Dr. Armstrong (De Grasse), an American surgeon, and his wife Margaret (Billington). Von Steuben begins to seduce Margaret, who is unhappy in her marriage.

Critical and commercial success:

Blind Husbands was a critical and commercial success upon its release. It was praised for its technical innovations, direction, and acting. The film was also controversial for its explicit portrayal of adultery.

Considerations:

Blind Husbands is a complex and multifaceted film that explores themes such as adultery, jealousy, and marriage. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the majestic Dolomites in all their beauty. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as parallel editing, to create dramatic tension.

Blind Husbands is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on the medium. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally 101 minutes long, but it was cut down to 68 minutes for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by von Stroheim’s own experiences as a married man.
  • Von Stroheim’s performance as von Steuben is considered one of the greatest in silent film history.

The Devil’s Passkey (1920)

The Devil’s Passkey (1920) is an American silent drama film directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Una Trevelyn, Clyde Fillmore, and Maude George. It is a controversial film that explores themes such as adultery, blackmail, and revenge.

Plot:

Grace (Trevelyn) is a married woman living in Paris with her husband, Warren (Fillmore), a playwright. Grace is unhappy in her marriage and begins an affair with a wealthy American, Captain Rex Strong (Fillmore). Strong offers Grace a loan, but only in exchange for sexual favors. Grace refuses and her seamstress, Renée Malot (George), attempts to blackmail her. The scandal is reported in the press, but Warren is unaware of his wife’s involvement. After learning the truth, Warren decides to kill Strong. However, Strong convinces him of Grace’s innocence and the matter is resolved happily.

Critical and commercial success:

The Devil’s Passkey was a controversial film upon its release. It was criticized for its explicit portrayal of adultery and blackmail. However, the film was also praised for its direction, cinematography, and acting.

Considerations:

The Devil’s Passkey is a complex and multifaceted film that explores controversial themes. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the beauty of Paris in all its glory. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as parallel editing, to create dramatic tension.

Conclusion:

The Devil’s Passkey is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on the medium. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally shot in 12 reels, but it was reduced to 7 for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by von Stroheim’s personal experiences.
  • Von Stroheim’s performance as director is considered one of the best in the history of silent film.

Comparison with Blind Husbands:

Blind Husbands and The Devil’s Passkey are both films by Erich von Stroheim that explore themes such as adultery and jealousy. However, the two films are very different in tone and style. Blind Husbands is a lighter and more romantic film, while The Devil’s Passkey is a darker and more dramatic film.

Blind Husbands is set in an idyllic setting, while The Devil’s Passkey is set in an urban and corrupt setting. Blind Husbands has a happy ending, while The Devil’s Passkey has a more ambiguous ending.

Ultimately, both Blind Husbands and The Devil’s Passkey are important films in the history of silent cinema. They are two films that explore universal themes in unique and innovative ways.

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Foolish Wives (1922)

Foolish Wives (1922) is a silent American romantic drama film directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Pola Negri, Erich von Stroheim, and Maude George. It is a lavish and extravagant film that tells the story of a con artist who seduces the wife of an American diplomat.

Plot:

The film is set in Monte Carlo during the Roaring Twenties. Count Sergius Karamzin (von Stroheim) is a con artist who arrives in Monte Carlo with his two accomplices, Vera (George) and Olga (Dagmar Godowsky). Karamzin’s plan is to seduce the wife of a wealthy man and then fleece her of her money.

Karamzin sets his sights on Helen Hughes (Negri), the wife of the American ambassador, Andrew Hughes (Rudolph Schildkraut). Helen is a beautiful and naive woman who is easily seduced by Karamzin’s charm.

Karamzin takes Helen to a lavish party where he introduces her to the world of gambling. Helen quickly becomes addicted and loses a large sum of money. Karamzin offers to help her win her money back, but only if she agrees to be his mistress.

Helen is initially hesitant, but she eventually agrees to Karamzin’s demands. The two of them begin an affair and Helen becomes increasingly obsessed with Karamzin.

Andrew Hughes eventually discovers his wife’s affair and challenges Karamzin to a duel. Karamzin kills Andrew in the duel and flees Monte Carlo with Helen.

The film’s climax takes place at a remote mountain resort. Karamzin and Helen are trapped in a burning building. Karamzin abandons Helen to save himself, but she is rescued by a local man.

Critical and commercial success:

Foolish Wives was a critical and commercial success upon its release. It was praised for its lavish production values, direction, and acting. The film was also controversial for its explicit portrayal of sex and violence.

Considerations:

Foolish Wives is a complex and multifaceted film that explores themes such as temptation, betrayal, and redemption. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the opulence of Monte Carlo in all its glory. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as deep focus and tracking shots, to create a sense of realism.

Conclusion:

Foolish Wives is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on the medium. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally 10 reels long, but it was cut down to 8 reels for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by von Stroheim’s own experiences in Monte Carlo.
  • Pola Negri’s performance as Helen Hughes is considered one of the greatest in silent film history.

Merry-Go-Round (1923)

Merry-Go-Round is a 1923 American silent drama film directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Norman Kerry, Mary Philbin and Dale Fuller. It is a controversial film that explores themes such as love, betrayal and loss.

The film is set in Vienna during World War I. Count Franz Maximilian (Kerry) is a young Austrian officer who falls in love with Agnes Urban (Philbin), the daughter of a puppeteer. However, Agnes’ family is against the relationship and tries to keep them apart.

In the meantime, Count Maximilian is sent to the front. During the war, he meets Countess Gisella (Fuller), a wealthy and glamorous woman. The two start an affair and Maximilian realizes he is in love with her.

After the war, Maximilian returns to Vienna and realizes Agnes is still in love with him. The two marry, but their happiness is short-lived. Maximilian discovers he has been deceived by Gisella, who is actually a German spy.

Maximilian confronts Gisella and kills her. He then commits suicide, leaving Agnes alone and devastated.

Critical reception and commercial success:

Merry-Go-Round was a controversial film upon its release. It was criticized for its realistic portrayal of war and violence. However, the film was also praised for its direction, cinematography and acting.

Considerations:

Merry-Go-Round is a complex and multifaceted film that explores universal themes such as love, loss and betrayal. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the beauty of Vienna in all its glory. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as parallel editing, to create dramatic tension.

Conclusion:

Merry-Go-Round is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on cinema. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally shot in 10 reels, but it was cut to 7 for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by von Stroheim’s personal experiences.
  • Norman Kerry’s performance as Count Maximilian is considered one of the best in silent film history.

Greed (1924)

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Having reached the point of reading with Universal Erich Von Stroheim goes to MGM which entrusts him with a great project. Greed of 1924 is a film inspired by Frank Norris’ naturalistic novel, Mcteague. An important film from the production point of view that required 8 months of work and 42 reels, then reduced to 24 and further cut without Stroheim’s permission. In fact, the director did not recognize the authorship of this version. The final version lasts about 2 hours while the original one lasted 6 hours. 

The film is a work of social realism that explores the themes of poverty, greed, and violence.

Plot

The film is set in San Francisco in the early 20th century. John McTeague is a country dentist who moves to the city to seek his fortune. He finds work for Marcus Schouler, a childhood friend, and falls in love with Trina Sieppe, Marcus’s cousin. Trina wins the lottery and McTeague becomes obsessed with her money.

The relationship between McTeague and Trina deteriorates and McTeague begins to show signs of madness. He eventually kills Trina and flees to Death Valley.

Critical reception

Greed is considered one of the most important and influential films of all time. It has been praised for its direction, cinematography, performances, and its realistic view of human nature.

The film was originally shot in a 4-hour and 30-minute version. However, it was cut by 20th Century Fox to 2 hours and 20 minutes to make it more commercially appealing. The original version of the film was lost for decades, but it was reconstructed in 1999 by Turner Classic Movies.

Greed is a powerful and provocative film that offers a compelling view of human nature. It is a film worth seeing, even though it is a silent film and can be difficult to find.

Here are some additional details about the film:

  • Greed was originally released in 1924. However, it was a commercial failure and was quickly withdrawn from theaters.
  • The film was directed by Erich von Stroheim, who was known for his lavish and expensive productions.
  • The film stars Gibson Gowland as John McTeague and Zasu Pitts as Trina Sieppe.
  • Greed was originally shot in a 4-hour and 30-minute version. However, it was cut by 20th Century Fox to 2 hours and 20 minutes to make it more commercially appealing.
  • The original version of the film was lost for decades. However, it was reconstructed in 1999 by Turner Classic Movies.

The Merry Widow (1925)

The Merry Widow (1925) is a 1925 American silent musical film directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Mae Murray, John Gilbert, and Roy D’Arcy. It is an adaptation of the operetta of the same name by Franz Lehár.

Plot:

The film is set in Paris in the 19th century. Hanna Glawari (Murray) is a wealthy widow who has inherited the fortune of her late husband, a court banker of the small state of Pontevedro. Her marriage to a man from a foreign country could cause the collapse of the state coffers, so the government of Pontevedro commissions Count Danilo Danilov (Gilbert) to marry her.

Danilo is a young aristocrat who has been infatuated with Hanna for years. However, Hanna is reluctant to marry him, as she believes he is not truly in love with her.

Meanwhile, Prince Mirko Zeta (D’Arcy), son of the King of Pontevedro, is secretly in love with Hanna. Mirko tries to sabotage Hanna and Danilo’s engagement, but he ultimately fails.

Hanna and Danilo marry and live happily ever after.

Critical and commercial success:

The Merry Widow was a critical and commercial success upon its release. It was praised for its lavish production values, direction, and acting.

Considerations:

The Merry Widow is a classic of silent cinema. It is a film that has been appreciated for its music, dance, and love story.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the beauty of Paris in all its glory. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as parallel editing, to create dramatic tension.

Conclusion:

The Merry Widow is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on cinema. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally shot in 10 reels, but it was cut to 7 for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by the operetta of Franz Lehár.
  • Mae Murray’s performance as Hanna Glawari is considered one of the greatest in silent film history.

The Wedding March (1928)

The Wedding March is a silent romantic drama film directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Erich von Stroheim, Fay Wray, and ZaSu Pitts. It is a complex and ambitious film that explores themes such as love, betrayal, and redemption.

Plot:

The film is set in Vienna during the early 1900s. Nicklaus Schiloff (von Stroheim) is a wealthy and powerful industrialist who is engaged to marry the beautiful and innocent Marie (Wray). However, Nicklaus is secretly in love with his mistress, Vera (Pitts).

Nicklaus eventually decides to marry Vera instead of Marie. However, Vera is not in love with Nicklaus and only marries him for his money. After the wedding, Vera begins to have an affair with another man.

Nicklaus discovers Vera’s infidelity and challenges her lover to a duel. Nicklaus is killed in the duel.

Marie is heartbroken by Nicklaus’s death. However, she eventually finds love again with another man.

Critical and commercial success:

The Wedding March was a critical and commercial failure upon its release. The film was too long and complex for audiences of the time. It was also controversial for its explicit portrayal of sex and violence.

Considerations:

The Wedding March is a masterpiece of silent cinema. It is a film that is both visually stunning and emotionally powerful. Von Stroheim’s direction is masterful and the performances are all excellent.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the beauty of Vienna in all its glory. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as deep focus and tracking shots, to create a sense of realism.

Conclusion:

The Wedding March is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on cinema. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally shot in 12 reels, but it was cut to 9 reels for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by the novel “The Kreutzer Sonata” by Leo Tolstoy.
  • Erich von Stroheim’s performance as Nicklaus Schiloff is considered one of the greatest in silent film history.

The Honeymoon (1928)

The Honeymoon (1928) is a silent romantic drama film directed, produced, written, and starring Erich von Stroheim. It is the second part of The Wedding March, which tells the story of Mitzi’s love for Nicki, from their first meeting to their separation when the prince marries, for convenience, the wealthy Cecilia.

Plot:

After their marriage, Nicki and Cecilia go to the Tyrol for their honeymoon. Cecilia slowly becomes attached to her husband, who remains cold and distant.

Meanwhile, Mitzi, the young maid that Nicki loved before getting married, is still in love with him. Mitzi follows Nicki and Cecilia to the Tyrol and tries to win him back.

Nicki initially rejects Mitzi, but eventually gives in to his attraction to her. The two begin a secret affair.

Cecilia discovers Nicki and Mitzi’s affair and is devastated. Nicki, overcome with guilt, decides to leave Cecilia and run away with Mitzi.

Critical and commercial success:

The Honeymoon was a critical and commercial failure upon its release. The film was considered too scandalous for the audience of the time.

Considerations:

The Honeymoon is a complex and ambitious film that explores themes such as love, betrayal, and redemption. It is a film that is both visually stunning and emotionally powerful.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the beauty of the Tyrol in all its glory. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as deep focus and tracking shots, to create a sense of realism.

Conclusion:

The Honeymoon is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on cinema. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally shot in 11 reels, but it was cut to 7 for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by the novel “The Kreutzer Sonata” by Leo Tolstoy.
  • Erich von Stroheim’s performance as Nicki is considered one of the greatest in silent film history.

Queen Kelly (1929)

Queen Kelly (1929) is a silent film directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Gloria Swanson, Walter Byron, and Seena Owen. It is a lavish and scandalous film that tells the story of a convent girl who is seduced by a prince and forced to become a prostitute.

Plot:

The film is set in a convent school in France during World War I. Patricia Kelly (Swanson) is a young and innocent orphan who is seduced by Prince Wolfram (Byron), a young and handsome soldier.

Wolfram takes Patricia away from the convent and promises to marry her. However, he eventually abandons her and she is forced to become a prostitute to survive.

Patricia meets a kind-hearted American diplomat named Jack McDowell (Owen) who falls in love with her. McDowell helps Patricia to escape from her life of prostitution and they start a new life together in America.

Critical and commercial success:

Queen Kelly was a critical and commercial failure upon its release. The film was considered too scandalous for the audience of the time. It was also too long and expensive to produce, and it was never finished.

Considerations:

Queen Kelly is an unfinished masterpiece. It is a film that is both visually stunning and emotionally powerful. Von Stroheim’s direction is masterful and Swanson’s performance is one of the best in silent film history.

Technology:

The film was shot in a widescreen format called “Super Cinemascope”. The format allowed von Stroheim to capture the beauty of the French countryside in all its glory. The film also used a number of innovative techniques, such as deep focus and tracking shots, to create a sense of realism.

Conclusion:

Queen Kelly is a classic of silent cinema that has had a profound impact on cinema. It is a film that continues to be appreciated today for its artistry and storytelling.

Additional information:

  • The film was originally shot in 12 reels, but it was cut to 7 for its commercial release.
  • The film was inspired by a short story by H.G. Wells.
  • Gloria Swanson’s performance as Patricia Kelly is considered one of the greatest in silent film history.

Erich Von Stroheim actor

sunset-boulevard

Despite the diffidence of the Studios, however, every film by Erich Von Stroheim is a success: Rapacity also has a large influx of audiences. But this will not serve to appease the producers’ fury against the director’s work, both on set and during editing. He will continue to have problems in later films as well. The next project Queen Kelly, which was to be financed by an independent production and by the diva Gloria Swanson with whom she will work on Sunset Boulevard, will never see the light. The Austrian director will continue to work successfully as an actor. 

Seduction, fetishism, greed, his films offer a roundup of all the most unhealthy vices, taken to the extreme. Another reason for the contrast was the large budgets that his sets entirely rebuilt in the studio required. Stroheim likes to show in a naturalistic way to the limit of tolerance, his close-ups and details are powerful, situations repeat themselves and become symbolic. 

His career as a great actor joins that of a cursed director: the character of the officer he plays in many films with different shades, reaches one of the best results in The Great Illusion Jean Renoir’sof 1937. In Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder of the 1950 instead plays a melancholy character, a former mortgage director turned butler. 

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