12 September 2010 | Michael_Elliott
Very Good With a What If...
Foolish Wives (1922)
*** (out of 4)
von Stroheim's third feature (his second is now lost) had a budget of $250,000, which was quite high for the time but the "man who love to hate" managed to grow crazy during production and the final cost to Universal was just over $1.2 million. The director also managed to turn in a film running six-and-a-half hour only to have the studio cut it down to three-and-a-half. Still not short enough it was cut down to two-and-a-half and this is what it was originally released to. The studio would cut it again to 73-minutes, which is the version that would be shown for years until a 120-minute cut was discovered. Finally, using prints from five different locations, Kino's DVD restores the film to 142-minutes, which to date is the longest surviving cut. Using so many prints has left the quality quite shaky and poor but it is the film that counts.
Set in Monte Carlo, Count Sergius Karamzin (von Stroheim), with the help of his two cousins, lives a luxury life thanks to his ability to seduce married women and then blackmail them for money. His latest target is an American Miss DuPont) who is rather bored with her husband. The story is fairly close to that used in BLIND HUSBANDS and many ways this here seems like an alternate and more epic version of it. I felt BLIND HUSBANDS wondered a bit too long so I was a little nervous watching a longer version of it but this one here turned out to be much better all around. I'm not sure if the story would have worked at over six-hours but I'm going to guess that the longer version probably features more plot built around other characters including a maid as well as the two cousins who are more than likely lovers to the Count. It's impossible to discuss this movie without its budget but you can look at the screen and see where the money went to. von Stroheim actually rebuild the entire Monte Carlo city on the Universal back lot and the attention to details is quite amazing. Not for a second will you feel that you on a lot and it's a rather staggering achievement that the director was able to pull this off but then again it shows what a madman the director was. Apparently even the scenes where they are eating caviar had to use the most expensive caviar because the director wanted everything real. The story here is much better written than the previous film and you can tell that each character has their own bit of story and I think there reasons for doing everything are much better written and explained. The performances by von Stroheim and DuPont are both excellent and they work extremely well together. von Stroheim has no problem slipping into this snake role and he does a great job at playing the seducer as well as the con man. DuPont makes for a great victim as you can actually feel how soft and vulnerable she is. Even though the film is epic in scale, some of the best moments are smaller, quiet ones including a tremendously powerful scene where DuPont reacts to a man who has lost both of his arms in the war. The way this scene plays out is incredibly touching and perhaps the most powerful scene in the film. Another excellent scene happens when the maid, apparently another lover, finally realizes that she's been played all these years. Her breakdown is very effective and heartfelt. The ending has a spectacular fire sequence that contains some nice drama and the ending is pretty funny. The film being chopped down obviously leaves some flow issues but overall this is a much better film than BLIND HUSBANDS and one that really does fit the epic label. We'll never know if the uncut version is a masterpiece or not but what survives is a good indication of what might have been.