Erich von Stroheim is at it again. Well, this actually came before Greed, so really we’re revisiting the earlier career of this certifiable madman of cinema. Foolish Wives is another one whose original cut ran over 6 hours, cut down to a meager 140 minutes, and at the time was the most expensive production in film history. Really, how did he keep getting movies after pulling stuff like this? The story this time around is reminiscent of Monsieur Verdoux (or rather, the other way around); a man passes himself off as a regal in order to seduce rich women, marry them, and take their money. Simple enough; got it? Good, cause what else happens I probably couldn’t tell you; that’s how uninterested I was.
von Stroheim directs and stars in this picture; as if he doesn’t have enough on his plate already. The film is extravagant in just about every way but the camerawork. You can tell the level of von Stroheim’s perfectionism just by the characters names alone, but the rest of the film follows up with equal measure. I’ll give von Stroheim this; he certainly wants to tell one hell of a story. The script and actual meat of the film is very fleshed out and thoroughly realized; it’s the paying attention part that’s the problem. There is very little in the film that grabs you and makes you want to see what is going to happen next, which any great film needs to do to hold its audience through the running time. With this, I don’t see how an audience lasted through the 2 hour, 20 minute version, let alone a 6 hour version. I barely lasted, and most of the time I only kept going just to say that I’d made it and to tick another one off the list, which is sad but true.
I’ll admit, I had a really hard time getting through this one. I don’t know if it was just a bad night for my attention span, or if it was the film itself, but I just didn’t fall into this film at all, and I could hardly keep myself tuned into what was happening. Still, this is regarded by the book as von Stroheim’s masterpiece, even over Greed, so there must be some redeeming qualities about it. I found the story quite remarkable in its complexity (not the premise, though, which is simple), and von Stroheim and the others in the film do well with their characters. Overall, though, I wouldn’t recommend this to too many viewers, except those who liked Greed and are willing to give von Stroheim another go.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10