This is one of the great masterpieces of silent cinema, direced by Erich von Stroheim. The original 8 hour version is supposed to have been even better, but it's now lost forever after the studio cut it down to two and a half hours. It's one of the few silent movies to be shot entirely on location, which included two months in the heat of Death Valley, which nearly killed many of the cast and crew.
The theme, obviously, is greed and what it can do to people. (The missing part of the film contained examples of how other people dealt with their riches, but the only part remaining is the tragic story of McTeague.
McTeague is a simple dentist in San Francisco who falls in love with his best frined Marcus' fiance Trina. Marcus lets McTeague marry her. Then Trina gets rich by winning $5000 in a lottery. (This must have been a fortune during the gold rush era in which the movie is set.) Marcus is overcome with greed, believing that the money should be his, so he ruins McTeague's business. Trina becomes so greedy about the money that she refuses to spend any of it and forces McTeague to sell all their posessions and live as if they are broke. McTeague beats Trina to death, takes her money, and leaves town. He rides alone into Death Valley with the money, where he is pursued by an angry Marcus. Marcus manages to handcuff himself to McTeague, but McTeague kills him. At the end of the film McTeague is alone in the desert with no horse, no water, handcuffed to a corpse, and unable to reach his money.
(This is why I stopped playing the lottery.)
When McTeague is alone crossing scorching-hot Death Valley, he is crossing some sand dunes with his mule when he sees a large rattlesnake that strikes out at him. Then he sees a Gila Monster crawling next to a Chuckwalla. He says "Good lord, what a country."
The rattlesnake is a live Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, and the lizards are both live, too.