Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Greed (1924)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The exaggerated, low-comedy scene of the unromantic, miserable marriage of Trina and Mac exaggerates the characters and their actions. In the dining room (the photographer's rooms adjoining Mac's dental parlours), all the formally-dressed characters are collected together to be present at the wedding - Marcus (who has refused to be best man because of his hostility toward the marriage), Selina, the solemn and gaunt Minister (William Barlow), Miss Baker, the German immigrant Seippe family (with their nuisance-making children), and Uncle Rudolf Oelbermann (Max Tryon). Finally, the time comes for the ceremony - seeming very nervous, McTeague stumbles over the door sill as he enters the photographer's room - one of many foreshadowings of 'bad things' to come. Old Grannis and McTeague take their pre-assigned places marked on the floor, and Selina, seated at the melodeon, begins to play the wedding march.

From behind a shaking and opening curtain, Trina emerges on her father's arm and is marched to the center of the room, preceded by a child carrying a bouquet of flowers. Her long bridal train is carried by two Sieppe children. Marcus scowls, as the Minister proceeds with the wedding, and the two exchange marital vows. McTeague puts a ring on Trina's finger. They kneel together - through the window behind the minister in a remarkable deep-focus shot, a somber Roman Catholic funeral can be seen passing on the street outside - it includes a crippled boy walking with crutches behind the casket bearers. Mrs. Sieppe is visibly crying and sobbing during the ceremony. A close-up of Marcus from behind shows him angrily clenching his fists behind his back. The dumb-founded couple rise - Trina is congratulated first by her mother and then by Marcus who takes her hand.

"-- and then they viewed the gifts." Comically, Mr. Sieppe points to a polished slide of redwood with a handpainted view of an ocean sunset - a present from Selina. The next gift is from Marcus to Trina - a chatelaine pocket watch. Mac whispers that he also has his own wedding gift for her. She is astonished when presented with a covered canary cage. When the towel covering is removed - there is a gilded cage with not only one male bird, but now two love-birds - a female canary joins his male bird. Trying to conceal her disappointment, she forces out a sweet smile toward Mac. Marcus contemptuously sneers at Mac's gift and cleans out his ear with the little finger of his gloved left hand. When Owgooste gets too close to the cage, Popper smacks him and then forcefully spanks all three of his mischievous children.

"-- and then, for two full hours, they gorged themselves." In the dining room in McTeague's apartment, everyone is seated at the table, exhibiting human swinishness. Mr. Sieppe chews on a calf's head and then wipes his sweaty brow with his tucked-in bib napkin. Mrs. Sieppe similarly gnaws on a calf's head. The three Sieppe children seated at a separate table fight amongst themselves. The obese Mr. Heise (Hughie Mack) belches while eating. Everyone gorges themselves with food - a cramped Uncle Oelbermann, the hunchbacked photographer (Hugh J. McCauley), and the minister who attempts to eat his chicken in a dignified, more refined manner. Marcus rises and proposes a toast to the health of the bride.

"--then, came the farewell." In the dramatic leave-taking scene, Trina is kissed by her father, and then with tears wetting their faces, she embraces her mother. Fearfully, she looks over at McTeague who is peacefully smoking his long pipe - apart from the family group. The Sieppe children are picked up to say goodbye to Trina and dressed for the departure. Mommer has a few final words with her son-in-law: goot to her! Pe vairy goot to her...von't you? (McTeague looks at Trina and nods affirmatively)

Heart-broken that her family is leaving, Trina waves to her Mommer from the top of the stairs. She notices Mac standing on the side with a uncaring expression on his face. With fright in her eyes, she rushes down to give her mother one more hug and kiss. As she looks back in Mac's direction with a fearful look, her mother comforts her:

Der's nuttin' to pe 'fraid oaf! Go to your husban'.

After waving one more final time to her mother as she leaves the front door, a worried Trina turns back and trudges up the stairs to the apartment. The wedding guests have gone and they are alone. She looks in the doorway of the dining room and sees McTeague with his gigantic back to her seated at the table - he is dozing and smoking his pipe in front of the bird cage. She looks over toward the double bed and then back at her husband. The bird cage and the two birds dissolve into view and then blur out of focus. Still wearing her bridal gown and train, she disappears from the doorway and walks down the hallway to their back bedroom and enters. When he hears the bedroom door, he turns and asks, "Is that you, Trina?" She holds her breath and trembles, covering her mouth with her handkerchief and hands. The thought of being alone terrifies her and she draws back in fear to keep quiet.

McTeague rises and starts toward her - a large close-up shows him approaching, and she backs up to the wall of the bedroom. He looms closer toward her, grabs her with his strong arms, and as she struggles he kisses her full upon the mouth. Their awkward embrace is intercut with a close-up shot of the two love-birds in the cage. As Mac and Trina kiss, a close-up of Trina's white satin slippers shows her standing on her tiptoes on top of McTeague's large black shoes. She collapses on the bed as the camera draws back from the room past the bedroom's threshold. Mac draws the portieres - curtains that can be seen on either side of the bedroom's arch. Through the remaining opening in the curtain, he can be seen returning to Trina on the bed. The horizontal barn door camera effect closes the scene of their first night together.

Part Two:

"The early months of married life wrought changes. Since her lottery winning, Trina feared their good luck might lead to extravagance; and her normal instinct for saving became a passion." Trina's life soon becomes dominated by an obsession for money and she hoards her own pennies. From a Protestant church service on Easter Sunday, Dr. and Mrs. McTeague are among the well-dressed parishioners who leave. On the front steps, Trina inspects pairs of Easter lilies from an old lady flower-seller. She looks in her coin purse and sees lots of nickels, dimes, and quarters, but then, after quickly looking at Mac for an instant, she closes the purse:

I haven't no small change, Mac.

He nods, looks in his pockets, and pays for the flowers, as the self-satisfied Trina looks on. "For quite some time, McTeague had his eye on a little house...that they might be by themselves." On their way home from church, McTeague and Trina have stopped at the house for let - a house they might have for their own. They emerge from the front of the house with the landlord, discussing the terms of the rental. As they walk down the street arm in arm, the camera tracks back in front of them as Trina complains that they can't afford the extravagant $35 a month rent:

Mac: What d'yer think?
Trina: We can't afford such extravagance. Thirty-five dollars...and the water extra!

"In the new order of life, Trina reduced Mac's visits to Frenna's Saloon to one night a week." [This entire sequence was transposed from before the wedding to after the wedding in the released print.] After a shot of the exterior of Joe Frenna's Saloon, Mac is seen inside the establishment as he blows the frothy head off a beer mug, and an angry-looking, smoldering Marcus sits in front of him drinking shots of whiskey. In the background, Mac fills and lights his pipe, as Marcus intensely turns a coin over and over in his hands. Marcus slowly turns and spitefully explodes, resentful that his pal Mac has his woman (and her $5,000 lottery winnings):

Marcus: Say, Mac...when are ya gonna pay me that money you owe me?
Mac: (leaning forward, looking astonished) Huh? money?
Marcus: Well, you owe me...four bits! I paid for you and Trina that the picnic!
Mac: (apologetically as he reaches for his coin purse and deposits a 50 cents coin on the table) You oughta have told me before. I'm...I'm much obliged to you, Marcus.
Marcus: -- and you never paid me for sleepin' in my dog hospital the night you was engaged, either!
Mac: Do you mean...I...I shoulda paid for that, too?
Marcus: Well,'d a' had to pay four bits for a bed anywheres! (Mac digs for another fifty cents piece, finds one, and gives it to Marcus)

A three-shot sequence of Trina is inserted here - she sits at the foot of her bed. In close-up, she grasps and strokes coins in her hand. She holds the coins up so that she can polish them and make them catch the light.

Back at the saloon, Mac asks about why his friend is so unhappy, and Marcus angrily airs his grievances. Their argument leads to serious consequences, bringing their friendship to an end:

Mac: What's the matter with you lately, Marcus? Is there somethin' I've done?
Marcus: All I know is...that I been soldiered out of my girl -- an' out o' my money! (Mac is bewildered and perplexed. With his mouth gaping open, he stares back at Marcus.) Do I get any o' them five thousand bucks from the lottery?
Mac: It ain't mine to give! You're drunk!...that's what you are!
Marcus: (He rises and staggers to his feet) Am I gonna get some o' that money? (Mac shakes his head negatively) -- I'm through with you!!

Marcus knocks the pipe from Mac's hand, and it breaks on the floor. Surprised by the suddenness and unreasonableness of Marcus' outburst, Mac rises to his feet. Marcus reaches into his pocket, removes a jack-knife, and thrusts it toward Mac's head - the knife just misses McTeague's left ear and sticks quivering into the wall behind. Marcus snatches his hat and heads for the door. The thrown knife and attempt on his life are insignificant compared to the breaking of his pipe. Mac picks up the pieces of his broken pipe from the floor, and then produces a delayed reaction with a clenched fist:

He broke my pipe! -- he can't make small o' me! He broke my pipe! --

Unable to be restrained by the others in the saloon, Mac puts on his hat and strides toward the door like a brutish, raging animal.

Marcus' attack was soon a forgotten incident. Mac's moods of wrath always faded in Trina's company.

In the McTeague's bedroom, Mac pulls the covers up over himself and settles in to sleep. On the other side of the bed, Trina sits, wearing her nightgown and slippers. She speaks to her husband about a letter she has just received from her family, and insists that her money is never going to be touched, not even for her mother:

Trina: --Mommer -- wants...US -- to send her fifty dollars.
Mac: (looking up slightly startled) Well, I guess we can send it...can't we? (He rolls over)
Trina: I wonder if Mommer thinks we're millionaires?
Mac: (propping himself up on his elbows) Trina, you're gettin' to be a regular stingy! You're gettin' worse and worse every day!
Trina: But...fifty dollars is fifty dollars!
Mac: Well, you got a lot saved up...and besides, you still got all o' your five thousand.
Trina: (agitated) Don't talk that way, Mac! That money is never...never going to be touched! (He smiles and covers up again, presumably going to sleep.)

With a slightly sly and sinister look on her face as he sleeps, she holds a finger thoughtfully to her lip, and then sneaks over to his side of the bed as he falls asleep. Again holding a finger to her lip, she reaches inside his pants pocket and takes out his money. Smiling, she tiptoes back over to her side of the bed and deposits the money in her bedside dresser drawer. She rubs her hands together with cold cream:

If Mommer really needs the money so badly...she'll write again.

The scene closes with an iris-down on her rubbing hands. The next scene fades in and out on a metaphorical image of a pair of elongated, spindly arms and hands playing greedily with gold coins. Trina's preoccupation with money slowly estranges her from her husband.

"Trina's miserly attitude grew steadily through the following months...but her brusque outbursts of affection kept her tolerable to the slow-thinking McTeague." In their kitchen, Trina is cuddled in her husband's lap as he smokes his pipe. She hugs his head and kisses his bald spot on the top of his head. As he had done before, Marcus interrupts their embrace with a loud knock of his cane on their door. Startled as if they're not married, Trina jumps off Mac's lap, cleans up a bit, and readies herself by smoothing her hair. She approaches the door, turns on the light, and opens the door to let Marcus in.

Although Mac appears jovial, Trina is disturbed and Mac looks surprised and speechless by his appearance. Marcus' Persian cat sneaks through the open door as he enters. Marcus is offered a seat at the table where they all sit - he has come to say goodbye:

Marcus: Well...bygones is bygones, ain't they, Mac?
Mac: Sure!
Marcus:'s business, Doc? (Trina gestures behind Marcus's back, cautioning her husband to be careful in how he responds) -- plenty o' money? Lots to do? Everythin' just fine...huh?
Trina: We've got lots to do -- but we haven't got no money!
Marcus: Well...I'm goin' away. Goin' in cattle ranchin with a English duck. Comin' back? Why,...I ain't never comin' back. I came t' say 'goodbye'.

The symbolism of Marcus' cunning upper-hand is symbolically illustrated by intercut, metaphoric shots of Marcus' cat in pursuit of the two lovebirds in a cage. Marcus gives Mac a final goodbye: "I guess we won't never see each other again." After a close-up of his cat's face, he wishes them: "Good luck...t' you both!" As Trina closes the door behind him, she breaks into laughter and playfully slaps Mac in the chest:

Goodbye! That's the best thing I ever heard Marcus say.

"So Marcus had left...left for good. Never again should they be disturbed by him." A few days later, letters fall through the tiny mail slot in McTeague's door. McTeague receives a letter from the Board of Dental Examiners of California (in San Francisco). As he opens the letter, Marcus' cat is again seen pursuing the lovebirds along the ledge of the bay window behind him. The fateful letter is dated February 10, 1922 - he is forbidden to practice his profession any longer:

Dear Sir:
Information has been received at this office that you are engaged in the practice of Dentistry without having in your possession a diploma from a recognized Dental College nor a license issued by the Dental Board of the State of California authorizing you to do so.
You are therefore and herewith prohibited and enjoined from further continuing to practice Dentistry.
It is our duty to inform you that violations of the Dental Practice Act are punishable and subject to criminal prosecution.
Very truly yours,
(signed C. J. Rogers)
Attorney for Board of Dental Examiners of California.

The cat crouches and then jumps onto the top of the suspended bird cage, and hangs onto the outside of the cage as the birds flutter around in fright. McTeague swats at the cat with the hand holding the envelope, causing the cat to jump away onto the window sill. He ponders what to do, looking blankly at the letter. Confused, he takes the letter through the spotlessly-clean apartment to the kitchen, where Trina is tidying up. He hands her the letter and she reads it - her rubber glove-covered hand squeezes the sponge she is holding and water drips out. Calmly, she sits at the kitchen table and spreads the letter out on the table:

Trina: isn't possible!
Mac: Well....I ain't gonna quit for just a piece o' paper! (The doorbell in his office rings and the door is opened.)
Trina: Go on, Mac! Get all the money you can before they make you stop.

As he leaves to attend to a patient, Trina remains seated before the letter, resting her head in both her hands as she reads it again. Then, all of a sudden, an illuminating, quick-flash of a thought comes to her and she snaps her fingers:

It's MARCUS...that's done it! -- damn his soul!!

She believes that Marcus has wreaked his jealous vengeance by exposing her husband as an unlicensed dentist. Before leaving, he had informed the dental board that McTeague was practicing without a recognized diploma. Trina breaks down and buries her head on the table, knowing that their livelihood is being threatened and ruined.

"Only little by little did the McTeagues understand the calamity that had befallen them." In the last tender scene between the McTeagues, Trina puts her arms around Mac's neck and cradles his head. He tells her: "I got ev'rythin' fixed, an' ready an' waitin'' nobody's ever gonna come any more." Mac hands her the appointment slate that lists the dental appointments of his patients:

Vanovitch, Wednesday 2 PM, Mrs. Loughhead, Thursday 9 AM, Little Heise, Thursday 1 30, Mrs. Watson, Friday, Vanovitch, Saturday at Seven

Trina doesn't need a sponge to wipe out the appointments - her tears spatter the chalk marks: "That's the way to rub it me crying on it." She passes her fingers over the wet and blurred chalk writing on the slate to rub it clean. They are both helpless to the forces of calamity.

McTeague slowly rises and pulls himself up to his full height. He raises his fists into the air above his head and growls:


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