“It is a dangerous place for strangers — so many hungry sharks lying in wait to get hold of one’s money.”
A con-artist (Erich von Stroheim) posing as a count in Monte Carlo attempts to seduce the wealthy, neglected wife (Miss DuPont) of an American envoy (Rudolph Christians) while continuing a duplicitous affair with his jealous housemaid (Dale Fuller), and trying to bed the “half-witted” daughter (Malvina Polo) of a counterfeiter (Cesare Gravina).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Erich von Stroheim Films
- Mistaken Identities
- Silent Films
The production history of this extravagantly produced long-con flick by writer/director Erich von Stroheim — whose original budget of $250K skyrocketed to over $1 million, and whose initial cut ran for no less than 6 hours — is legendary, though it was merely the first in a series of several creatively thwarted films (followed by Greed, The Wedding March, and Queen Kelly) that led to von Stroheim’s downfall as a director. As viewed in its recently restored version (running approximately 2 1/2 hours long), it’s obvious that narrative strands are missing and/or truncated; however, most of it coheres quite well, thanks to a relatively straightforward storyline featuring an unambiguously evil central character, played with perverse glee by von Stroheim himself (known by audiences at the time as “The Man You Love to Hate”). Indeed, von Stroheim’s Count Karamzin remains one of cinema’s most dastardly protagonists — a psychopathic conman and sexual predator who lies and cheats with astonishing agility.
In the film’s most disturbing sequence, he’s interrupted just as he’s about to rape the unconscious DuPont; for an agonizingly long stretch, we watch him sitting in a chair nearby DuPont, visibly irritated as the cabin’s recently-arrived caretakers prevent him from carrying out his plan. Later in the film, a von Stroheim-favorite — the expressively distinctive Dale Fuller, playing his love-struck, deceived mistress — becomes a key player in the story, helping to move the film towards its relatively satisfying (though terribly truncated) ending. Despite its sorry-looking physical state — much of the recent restoration remains patchy-looking at best, unfortunately — Foolish Wives should be seen by all film fanatics as prime evidence of von Stroheim at his most unrepentantly reprehensible (as a character) and extravagant (as a director).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine direction by von Stroheim
- Dale Fuller as Maruschka
Yes, as one of von Stroheim’s earliest successes — and as a prime example of the iconoclastic director at his vilest (character-wise, that is). Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.
- Historically Relevant
- Important Director
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)