Erich von Stroheim no longer needs to suffer our love-to-hate: It appears that, from now on, all we need to do is hate him. He devoted nine or more hours of film to Norris’ McTeague--but it was hated. Then down to something like five hours--still hated. Then hated enough to slice it to a little more than two hours--until even von Stroheim now hates it. He finally gets his way, and has made us all guilty of everything, villains to the last one, just as that gottverdammt fallen angel has been insisting all along.
I could barely look up at the maimed thing on the screen. It was not even workmanlike butchery, let alone a dissection--more like a hasty necropsy. What did we learn in the cutting? That von Stroheim could make his actors stop acting and simply become the poor fools they needed to be, down there where every dime counts, and pride goeth before, as it must? That Death Valley is nothing but, and that heat can actually pulse from a movie screen in reflected despair? That the camera can, at last, return to the world, and find everything it needs, already distressed, and beaten--like gold, like an over-the-hill palooka?
I don’t know; I turned away in regret so often all I remember are glimpses. They were almost enough, but for God's sake: Only thirty years on, and already the cinema is, if not yet a lost art, certainly one that suffers losses.