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

"With the stopping of McTeague's practice, the grind began. Trina sold everything; she worked at toy whittling that her money might remain untouched." Refusing to give up any of her savings, they have had to adapt to living in a single room at the back of the same boarding house. Their economic decline parallels the deterioration of their marriage. In a montage sequence, ragged-slippered Trina works all day at a table by the window, carving wooden figurines. In their ugly little flat, the bed is unmade, the dirty dishes are undone in the sink, and Trina's hands suffer the ravages of her work. A close-up of the clock that reads five past three is juxtaposed with a shot of McTeague who appears in the doorway - he has returned home early from work. Wide-eyed and surprised, Trina rises from her chair and berates her husband after he admits that he has lost his job:

Mac: They fired me!
Trina: (astonished) (She shakes him) Isn't there another surgical instrument factory in town?
Mac: Yes...there's...there's two more.
Trina: (insistent) We're losing money every second you sit here! -- and we cannot afford it!

She urges him to immediately go out to look for another job. She reaches for his cap, puts it in his hand, and commands him to rise. When he hesitates like a docile animal, she pulls him towards the door. At the top of the stairs in the hallway, she puts a finger to her lips and then asks whether they paid him off when they discharged him: "They paid you...didn't they?" Descending to the landing, she holds out her hand for the money, and then stamps the floor with her slippered foot. He replies:

-- always money!

He hands her his pay envelope, and she determinedly goes through all his pockets as he stands there dumbfounded. She tears open his envelope, empties the money from it, and finally satisfied, turns to walk away. As he descends the stairway, he pauses and then remembers that he needs some of the money. He climbs up a few steps toward her:

Mac: Better gimme a nickel for carfare -- an' it's gonna rain.
Trina (sneering at him with her hands on her hips): A big fellow like you...'fraid of a little walk!

Mac dejectedly shrugs his shoulders and turns away. As he exits from the front of the building, Maria points him out. Trina returns to her room, deposits McTeague's pay into a chamois bag (in front of her trunk), and then smiles as she puts her finger to her lips. An image of a pair of hands lifting up a sparkling collection of golden dinner service (solid gold dishes) is pictured against a black background.

In front of Frenna's Saloon, a despondent and rain-soaked McTeague is invited to come in from the pouring rain and have a drink by Heise: "You oughta taken a car. You're goin' to catch your death o' cold!" They approach the bar where a sign on the wall reads: "To Trust is to Bust and Bust is Hell." Heise insists on ordering whiskey and paying for McTeague:

Heise: Two straight, Joe.
Mac: It kind o' disagrees with me.
Heise: Aw...hell! You'll die...if you stand 'round soaked like that. (He reorders two more whiskeys.)

Back in her room, Trina shines one of her gold pieces and holds it up to admire it:

Gold was her master...a passion with her, a mania, a veritable mental disease.

After a few more drinks at the bar, McTeague is quickly becoming drunk. Trina is sitting at a table with gold coins spread out all over as Mac's loud footsteps (from muddy boots) announce his return. Trina reacts with fright, scrambles to gather together all her gold coins, puts the money in her trunk and locks it up. Angrily, Mac pounds on the locked door. When she opens it and lets him in, now tired, soaked, and dejected, he tosses his cap on the hook, gives Trina an angry glance, and sits on the bed.

Trina: (badgering) Did you get a place? Did you...get the rain?
Mac: (growling at her) Wouldn't even gimme a nickel...for carfare!
Trina: (protesting her innocence) I didn't know it was going to rain.
Mac: (scornful and furious at her) Didn't I tell you it was? You ain't gonna make small o' me...all the time!
Trina: (attempting to change the subject) Did you...get a place?
Mac: (He rises and holds out his hand - they are positioned directly in front of their wedding picture and marriage license hanging on the wall) Gimme back the money I gave ya!
Trina: I...paid...the grocery bill with it.
Mac: I don't believe ya!
Trina: (feigning innocence and sincerity and looking innocently at him) Why, you think I'd lie to you? (repeating) Did you...get a place?

For the first time in his married life, he stands up to her, feeling unmercifully assaulted by his environment and by his wife's stinginess. McTeague yells meanly at her, telling her "No!" She cowers in front of him and then sobs, with her head in her hands. After looking around at the sinkful of dirty dishes and the unkempt room, he looks up at the birdcage - the two lovebirds are also fighting in their cage. Their domestic quarrel is intercut with the images of the birds quarreling.

Mac: Ain't that fine? Ain't it lovely?
Trina: (looking up, still sobbing) I won't have you yell at that!
Mac: (Enraged, he grabs her and points at her throat) You're gonna do...just as I tell you...after this...Trina McTeague! (She smells the whiskey on his breath) Yes! I been drinkin' whiskey! (Animalistically, he grabs her wrists, pulls them down and holds them. He raises his open hand angrily above her, and then contracts it into a fist. She is terrified by his physical brutality.) I'm beat' I don't wanta be bothered! (He tosses her out of the way, removes his coat, and flops onto the bed.)
Trina: (musing about the money and distrustful) I wonder where he got the buy the whiskey? (The scene fades, and the iris closes down with her finger held up to her lip.)

"As time went on, Mac's idleness became habitual. His dislike for Trina increased with every day of her persistent stinginess." McTeague takes to drinking regularly, and he is seen smoking his pipe and drinking in the interior of Frenna's Saloon with Heise and Ryer (J. Aldrich Libby). He tells them that he has developed a new taste for whiskey, but wants to pay for their drinks: "I'll get some money and come back." He returns home where Trina is in bed resting. He cruelly grabs and twists her by the arm, pulls her from the bed, and argues with her for a little money - with his hand outstretched:

Mac: You with all that' me with nothin' Come'n!

He forcefully grabs her hand, brings it towards his mouth and bites deeply into her fingers, until she complies with his demands for money. She takes a dollar from under the mattress of the bed and gives it to him, but it isn't enough. He resumes his torture until she gets more money from the drawer of the table. With an evil grin, he grabs her arm again:

Trina: Don't you love me any more, Mac?
Mac: (laughing) Sure I do! (He hits her on the head and she falls onto the bed)

"As Trina's greed grew, Mac's ambition waned...and died. They sank lower and lower that Trina might still save from her meager earnings." Mac sits disconsolately on the side of his bed in their shack, wondering how his life has changed. Their living quarters are permanently filthy, and they no longer take care of their appearance - they are degraded to a new low. Trina has lost her prettiness and good looks. He glances back at their wedding picture on the wall - rent in half between them - it reminds him of their magnificent wedding meal.

Trina arrives in the rain at the SEMITE MARKET, a small butcher's shop. At the meat counter, a butcher asks about her selection of meat, and she thoughtfully puts her finger to her lips. He removes a barrel of stale meat from under the counter and tells her: "That's three days old. It's hardly fit for dogs." Now completely obsessed about money, she decides to skimp and save by buying the cheapest meat and selecting pieces from the smelly slop barrel. The butcher wraps up her selection of two chops - the cash register shows a total price of fifteen cents and she pays with a dollar bill. Outside, she holds the 85 cents change in her hand - she shrewdly transfers 60 cents into her right skirt pocket and keeps only a quarter in her left pocket.

When she returns home, she approaches the stove with her packet of meat to cook the chops, and McTeague warily watches her and then demands with his open hand:

Mac: Where's my change? (She reaches into her left pocket and gives him a quarter) Two bits...out o' a dollar?
Trina: Do you think I'd cheat you? (Mac's reaction is one of bewilderment)

"Mac's meal was eaten and finished in silence. For the first time in his life he had thoughts." After their meal as she scrapes the plates, the slow-thinking Mac has his own scheme to outsmart her - he takes his fishing gear and rod, places a piece of bread in his pocket, and amiably says goodbye to Trina. She ignores his obvious intentions and suggests that he should sell the lovebirds:

Mac: So long!
Trina: (Surprised and encouraged, she puts her arms around his neck.) Kiss me goodbye, Mac? (She pulls on his hair to bring his face down to hers, where she allows him to give her a big kiss on the mouth.) (She puts her finger to her mouth) Why don't you bring some of your fish home sometimes?
Mac: (He nods and sarcastically responds) It might save you a nickel. (He glances at her trunk, and then at the birdcage.) I think I'll take them birds o' mine along.
Trina: You ought to get at least five dollars for them. Maybe...six dollars!
Mac: (He has the birdcage in one hand, and his fishing gear in the other.) long!

After he has left - and abandoned her, she assures herself that the sixty cents is in her right pocket. She puts her finger to her lips. Mac exits the house, where writing on the wall next to the door of the shack reads: "All kinds of junk - rags, sacks, iron." Trina sits on the floor next to her open trunk, gazing at gold pieces in her hands, and holding them to her cheek:

- how I've slaved, and starved for you.

"Mac never returned after that Trina took employment as a scrub-woman." Trina has aged considerably, and she is seen scrubbing a table inside 'Lester Memorial Kindergarten.' No longer able to whittle wood carvings, she is reduced to a solitary charlady at a kindergarten. Some of the school children arrive and play as she stands with her broom and bucket. "And with all her gold, she was alone...a solitary, abandoned woman." In the interior of her room in the school after work that night, Trina stands in petticoat and shirt and empties the gold pieces from her chamois bag onto the sheets of her bed. With mad delight, she combs through the coins, spreading them out and caressing them. She removes her pillow from the bed and drops her petticoat from her thin frame.

Mac bends over a trash can outside the kindergarten building where Trina works. He pulls out the two pieces of his own torn wedding picture and looks over towards the school house, assuming that Trina is employed there. Mac approaches the gate, still carrying the canary bird cage. In a repulsive scene, Trina lies naked and excited in bed with her gold coins adorning her - she 'sleeps' with her gold. He approaches her window, listens for a moment, peers in, and then taps on the window. Trina sits up, frightened and apprehensive, and grabs her sheet and blanket. After more taps, she rises from bed with a blanket and sheet wrapped around her and goes to the window, where she looks out, draws aside the curtain, and sees Mac in the moonlight. She is surprised to see him, and stares at him. He motions for her to open her window, and she obeys. Cautiously, she half-opens the latched window to him:

Mac: Say, Trina...lemme in, will ya? I ain't had nothin' t' eat since yesterday mornin'.
Trina: (She refuses) I'll see you starve before you get another penny...of my money.
Mac: (imploring) I wouldn't let a dog go hungry!
Trina: (She extends her mutilated hand - her stumps of fingers, damaged from his biting were amputated in an excised scene) Not...if he'd bitten you. (She angrily slams the window shut.)
Mac: (furious) If I had hold o' you, I'd -- (He clenches his fist at her through the window.)

Mac turns away in a rage and leaves after threatening her. Holding her finger to her lips, she regrets the damage she has done. Soon after, Trina is scrubbing the floor of a school room with a steaming bucket of water and scrub brush - a black cat sits next to her. The cat is frightened off when Mac's head is seen in silhouette through the front windows of the doorway to the school. Kneeling, she is paralyzed with fear when the street door swings open and Mac enters the Christmas-decorated school and slams the door behind him. His face looms above her as he comes nearer:

I want that five thousand!

Not wanting to give him her money, she quickly darts by him and runs from him - she closes the double doors behind her and locks him out of an adjoining room. He pounds on the doors, and bursts through them with the weight of his body. He grabs her and twirls her around, and sends her into the dark room behind - she loses her shoe as he hurls her. (Two policemen saunter by the front of the school and stand together on the sidewalk, creating some suspense in the cross-cut scenes.) In the darkness, he clenches his fists and hits her, as the black cat scurries away from them. He repeatedly strikes her as she resists and fights back, trying to defend herself, but to no avail.

After he has brutally murdered her in a fury (off-screen in the shadows or hidden by the doors), he viciously kicks away her shoe, and staggers toward her room. With her key, he opens up her trunk, removes a canvas money sack, hides it behind his jacket, looks one last time at Trina's motionless body, closes the double doors behind him, and exits the school - just as the two policemen proceed along their way. Warily, he looks around, wipes the blood from his hands onto his jacket, and looks up at the sky:

I'll rain tomorrow.

After he disappears to the right, and the scene fades to black, another short symbolic insert fades in and out - a tremendous hand crushes two nude human beings.

"McTeague had been missing from San Francisco for weeks, when --" A wanted poster (with McTeague's wedding photograph) appears tacked to a wooden wall: "WANTED, $100 REWARD, JOHN 'DOC' McTEAGUE."

Whose photograph and description appears hereon, is wanted by this department on suspicion of murder and burglary. On December 24, 1922, Trina McTeague, the wife of the above was brutally murdered and robbed of $5,000.00 in the City and County of San Francisco. The above was seen in the vicinity of murder on this date. The man above has been traced as far as the Western portion of Inyo County and is believed at this time to be hiding in either the Pinto or Panamint Hills, in the vicinity of Keeler. Description: Age 37, height 6.2, weight about 200, eyes blue, hair light yellow, curly, complexion light. Had short, heavy, blond beard when last seen. Peculiarities: Carries a canary bird in cage. Keep a sharp lookout for this man and if located, arrest, hold and wire me and I will send officers with proper papers for him. The above reward of $100 will be paid by me for his arrest and detention or for any information leading to his arrest. June 15, 1923.
D.J. O'BRIEN, Chief of Police.

The poster is displayed at a western grocery store, where a number of people, including Marcus dressed as a cowboy, look at a copy of the notice. Marcus finishes reading the wanted poster, mutters threateningly, and then rides away on horseback to Keeler.

"The Fugitive." McTeague flees for the desert of Death Valley with a pack animal in tow. In the barroom of Hotel Keeler, where saddle-horses are hitched to the posts in front of the hotel, the Sheriff (James Fulton) assembles a posse and swears them in, to search for and pursue McTeague. Marcus rides up, jumps from his tired horse, and races into the hotel to join the posse without being sworn in. His assertion that he knows the wanted man convinces the Sheriff:

Marcus: (gesturing wildly) -- I know 'um well! I can identify 'um! - an' that five thousand he got away with...belongs to me! There ain't a man o' you big enough t' stop me from goin'!
Sheriff: Lord love you, come 'long then. He's been reported headin' for Death Valley. (Marcus pauses when he hears the words 'Death Valley')

"That night desolation lay still around Mac. Every nerve cried aloud for rest, yet every instinct seemed goading him to hurry on." Sleeping on the desert salt flats in a blanket, Mac suddenly hears something and jumps up with his rifle, and looks about toward the hills:

Damn you! Come on, will' have it out!

He aims into the range of hills and fires at some mysterious fear. His gun is empty, and he hurls it away. The posse mounts up in front of the hotel and then rides off into the night. The sun rises as McTeague is headed into the desert - the savage, merciless and lashing heat bakes everything as it appears over a mountain rock. Still looking around and listening, McTeague removes his coat, wipes the beads of perspiration from his neck and gazes up at the blazing sun, that shines directly into the camera lens. He speaks to his mule: "If it gets much hotter...I don't know!" As the fierce sun gets hotter as noon approaches, the surface of the earth becomes a furnace. He strips off his woolen shirt and hangs it on his saddle. A diamond-back rattlesnake spooks his mule. Two Gila monsters crawl by. He shakes his head and exclaims: "God!...what a country!" He looks around and plods on.

The chase sequence switches back and forth between the pursued and the pursuers. The posse follows close behind. "And for days, on Mac went...chasing the receding horizon that always fled before him." He reaches a mud hole where water has gathered - "The last water hole." He lies down prone, drinks his fill, and takes a handful of water. For the last time, he waters his mule with a pan of water and fills his canteen.

The posse rides up to the place where McTeague fired his rifle, and the Sheriff (and his posse) decide to abandon the trail and not risk it. But Marcus won't give up - he is greedy for the reward and the gold:

Sheriff: It's impossible to cross Death Valley! There ain't enough water for one man an' his mount...let alone eight!...We've got to circle 'round the Valley.
Marcus: (protesting) Like hell I will! I ain't sworn in. I'll I please!
Sheriff: Go on damn fool! But I ain't got nothin' t' do with it! If you catch him, put these bracelets on him an' bring him in!

"McTeague was headed for the very heart of Death Valley...that horrible wilderness of which even beasts were afraid." Goaded on to continue into the arid wilderness, McTeague and his mule walk over cracked, scorched ground: "It's goin' to be worse than ever today." Now alone, Marcus rides up to the last watering hole. With a horrified expression on his face, he realizes that it has dried up. He takes a long drink from his canteen. Mac clears away the hot surface of caked and cracked alkaline and spreads out his blanket - his mule stands nearby. Marcus stands beside his dying horse, shakes his almost-empty canteen, and then continues on foot under the blistering desert sun - following Mac's footprints. His throat is raging with thirst, and he gulps down the last mouthfuls of water from his canteen, thinking to himself: "By damn...if he ain't got no water with 'um, I'll be in a bad way." He discards his empty canteen and staggers on with a can of beans in his hand.

"But hatred and the greed for gold kept Marcus up...and closer and closer he came." With McTeague asleep in the foreground, Marcus stealthily sneaks up on him - and brandishes a pistol. He crawls over to McTeague on his hands and knees and yells for McTeague to put his hands up. Holding him at gunpoint, Marcus searches through McTeague's pockets. And after finding nothing, he asks:

Marcus: What did ya do with that five thousand? Got any water? (McTeague answers that it's on the mule. As Marcus reaches for the mule, it turns and gallops away into the distance. He pauses and thinks for a moment.) Is all the water we got...on the saddle? (McTeague nods affirmatively.)
McTeague: He ate some loco-weed. We'd better finish him...t'ain't right to let 'um suffer. (Desperate, Marcus runs after the animal and fires a few shots from his revolver - he mortally wounds the mule and it pitches forward. He snatches the canteen from the mule's pack, but it is empty. One of the bullets pierced its metal side and spilled the precious liquid into the ground.)
Marcus: There's no water...within a hundred miles o' here! (The two men hopelessly stand by the dead mule in the middle of the desert.)!

The gold coins spill out of a split-open canvas bag into the desert sand. Both of them look at each other with the same idea:

McTeague: Even if we're done for, I'll take some o' my truck along.
Marcus: (putting his hand on McTeague's chest to aggressively stop him) I ain't so sure 'bout who that money belongs to!
McTeague: (as Marcus pulls out his gun) -- an' don't try and load that gun either!

McTeague's fists clench by his side as his anger builds. Marcus holds the revolver like a club and cocks his arm: "Don't you lay your fingers on that sack!" In a protracted fight to the death, the two men face each other and grapple together for the gold as they wrestle for control of the gun. They struggle on the white ground, until McTeague overpowers Marcus and blindly strikes with the revolver - he clubs his one-time friend to death with the gun. On the ground, Marcus lies still and bloody beneath his blows. But in the midst of the life and death struggle, Marcus had found the strength to handcuff their wrists together. McTeague feels a tug on his left wrist - it has become attached to Marcus' right wrist. He turns and looks around - at the canvas bag (with gold coins) on the saddle of the dead mule and at the empty canteen. He sinks to his knees and sits in the deadly, pitiless heat of Death Valley, chained and locked to the corpse he just slew.

McTeague's last humane act is to release the feeble, half-dead pet bird from its little birdcage/prison. He places the birdcage on Marcus' stomach, reaches into the cage to catch the bird, cradles the little helpless bird in his bloody fingers, kisses it, and then tosses it into the air. It lands dead on the empty canteen. McTeague sits back, gravely acknowledging his own fate. He looks over at the gold coins one more time, as he dazedly awaits death. The camera moves from a medium closeup, to a long shot, and then to an extreme long shot of the lone figure in the middle of the endlessly desolate white landscape. The screen fades to black.

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