Crazy movie featuring an extremely evil Stroheim in league with two fake princesses, Olga (Stroheim regular Maude George) and Vera (Mae Busch, desireable pickpocket of The Unholy Three). They’re introduced in Monte Carlo being shitty to the maid, then the girls meet the counterfeiter (Cesare Gravina, the junkman in Greed) from whom they buy their false fortune while Stroheim tries to hit on the guy’s not-quite-right daughter.
Oops, I forgot which is which.
On to the main plot: a couple of important American diplomats are in town, and the wicked trio plots to befriend them in order to ensure their own status among the suspicious locals. Or that’s what the plot was supposed to be, but soon Stroheim goes full-on Blind Husbands trying to seduce the wife (and later rob her, after she wins a fortune at the casino).
EvS picks up Mrs. Hughes at the palace, getting himself introduced himself by paying somebody to page him, then takes the couple out shooting to show off, and soon enough takes her alone for a walk and gets “accidentally” lost in a storm, having to spend the night in a cabin. Fortunately for Mrs. Hughes, a monk comes along and gives EvS the stinkeye just as he was about to rape her in her sleep.
Meanwhile, EvS is also defrauding his own maid, getting her to hand over her life savings while promising to marry her. And diplomat Andrew Hughes is suspiciously keeping his back turned to camera in most of his scenes, because the actor died in the middle of production. It’s funny that Stroheim was obsessed with accuracy, dressing sets the camera would never see, using real caviar and buying silk underpants for all the actors, but when a main character died he just worked around that.
fake Monte Carlo:
All this deception catches up with the fake royalty. The cops bust the women, but EvS gives himself a more dramatic ending. The maid (Dale Fuller, also played crazy in Greed) sees EvS trying to seduce Mrs. Hughes so locks them both in the house and sets it aflame before throwing herself into the sea. Stroheim thinks he’s escaped a public scandal after jumping from the burning balcony first and leaving poor Mrs. Hughes to defend for herself, but her blind husband finally catches onto EvS’s game and knocks him down in public. Stroheim thinks of one last woman he can try to destroy and runs to the counterfeiter’s house (actually I think this was a different man), where he’s stabbed to death then dropped down a manhole.
The maid goes crazy:
I watched the first two thirds with Kino’s generic music before remembering that I control my own destiny and turning on the ol’ standby for silent movies, John Zorn’s Filmworks Anthology, which worked brilliantly as it always does.
A few seconds after Stroheim’s character is introduced, he fires a gun straight into the camera, making sure he’s immediately recognized as a villain (though he’s smiling a second later).
Mrs. Hughes spends the whole movie reading a novel: Foolish Wives by Erich von Stroheim
My favorite subplot: Mrs. Hughes is offended by a porter (played by silent star Harrison Ford) who never picks up the stuff that she drops, until one night she sees his cloak fallen at his feet and realizes he has no hands.
Also watched a Stroheim doc on the disc. I guess no Stroheim “director’s cut” exists of any of his films. It doesn’t get into the details of cuts made to them, but Blind Husbands title was forcibly changed from The Pinnacle, The Devil’s Passkey is lost (reviewers said it was better than Blind Husbands), Greed was drastically cut, Foolish Wives became “a national scandal,” he was fired from Merry-Go-Round, Merry Widow was a big hit, Wedding March was shut down in middle of filming then cobbled together for release, Queen Kelly also shut down/fired, and Walking Down Broadway was recut into Hello, Sister! after a disastrous premiere. It also says that Stroheim declined both roles offered him for Grand Illusion, then invented the idea that they’d be the same man (before and after getting injured) in order to give himself a larger part.