Foolish Wives. 1922. USA. Directed by Erich von Stroheim. With Erich von Stroheim, Rudolph Christians, Miss Dupont, Maude George. Silent. 147 min.
Advertised as “the first million-dollar movie” when it was released in 1922, Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives offered American audiences a sweeping vision of European decadence, unforgettably embodied by the director himself in his starring performance as Count Sergius Karamzin, a phony Russian aristocrat who bilks the naïve tourists of Monte Carlo with the help of his two dubious “cousins” (Mae Busch and Maude George). Marking the film’s centennial, this will be the New York premiere of a major new restoration of this silent classic, produced by MoMA and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The sole surviving nitrate print of the American release version, preserved in MoMA’s archive since the 1930s, has been scanned, regraded, and digitally restored to remove dirt, scratches, and printing imperfections, to yield a visual quality not seen since the film’s initial release, and augmented with a recreation of the film’s long-unseen original tinting, including a spectacular hand-colored fire sequence at the film’s climax. Stroheim’s performance as the egregiously amoral count has lost none of its wickedness and subversive appeal—100 years later, he remains the Man You Love to Hate.