Joyless Street, The (1925)

“One cannot open a door without seeing misery in all its nakedness.”

Synopsis:
During the depths of the post-WWI Depression in Austria, two young women — the daughter (Greta Garbo) of a councillor (Jaro Furth), and a secretary (Asta Nielsen) eager to marry her poor fiance (Henry Stuart) — degrade themselves in order to survive.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that G.W. Pabst’s “adaptation of Hugo Bettauer‘s novel” — about “how postwar inflation resulted in the financial and moral breakdown of the middle class in Austria and the exploitation and victimization of young women without money” — is “muddled and at times boring”; indeed, it’s frustratingly difficult to follow the “two loosely connected storylines”. While we can more or less make sense of Garbo’s role as the daughter of a man who gambles all his money on the stock market, her romance with Einar Hanson is underdeveloped at best; meanwhile, the more complex storyline involving Asta Nielsen as a secretary-turned-prostitute who witnesses a murder is cluttered with too many minor characters (how many women is Stuart romantically involved with, anyway?). However, it’s true that “the cinematography is superb” (it’s especially fascinating to see how Pabst and his creative team “mixed realism with expressionism”), and “the social themes are still relevant” (albeit dealt with in an overly heavy-handed manner). Meanwhile, film fanatics may be curious to see the film which is perhaps “most famous for bringing Greta Garbo to the attention of Hollywood”; as Peary notes, “those stunning eyes, that mournful expression…, and her mysteriously erotic quality made her a natural for Hollywood love stories.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Greta Garbo in a soon-to-be-star-making supporting role
  • Edgar Ulmer’s Expressionist/realist sets
  • Fine, atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though diehard film fanatics may want to check it out.

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