"The Joyless Street" (1927)

also known as

"Die Freudlose Gasse"

"Streets of Sorrow"

A Solar-Film-Produktion
Directed by G. W. Pabst
Based upon the popular novel by Hugo Bettauer which was serialized in Vienna's leading newspaper.
The American premiere was in the Cameo Theater in New York City the week of July 2, 1927.
Prelude to the film was the overture to Rachmaninoff's Prelude and two shorts, "Aesop Fables" and "Heels Over
Heads In Love."

Cast: Asta Nielson, Greta Garbo, Werner Krauss, Einer Hanson, Karl Etlinger. Ilka Grunning, Jaro Furth, Grafin Agnes Esterhazy, Alexander Mursky, Henry Stuart, Robert Garrison, Gregori Chmara, Hertha von Walter, Max Kohlhase, Sylvia Torfe, Valeska Gert, Tamara, Kl. Loni Nest, Mario Cusmich, Grafin Tolstoi, Frau Markstein, Otto Reinwald, Raskatoff, and Krafft-Raschig.

Note: Marlene Dietrich supposedly has an unbilled part.

The film is a stark study of the inhabitants of one dreary street in inflation-ridden Vienna after the First World War.
"The Joyless Street" epitomizes the Germanic visions of the street and the obsession with dimly lit streets, staircases and corridors. The face of the butcher with the twirly mustache is too prominent, the parting of his hair is too oily and his brutality is carried to the extreme. The prostitutes on the street corners and the fallen bourgeois outside the butcher shop resemble a passage from one of Dickens' novels of the East side of London.

"The Joyless Street" made Greta Garbo famous. She was recognized as more of a star than Asta Nielson who had received star billing. The film was based on Pabst's own experiences in the poverty and despair of defeated post war Vienna.

Pabst's unhesitating realism in showing the inflation, decline and pauperization of the middle class in Europe following the end of World War I shocked his contemporaries. England prohibited public showings of the film, and the versions released in Italy, France, Austria and elsewhere were considerably mutilated.

The reviews

The European reviews were much more favorable than the American newspaper and trade journals.

Variety July 6, 1927: "The picture's only commercial value is the presence at the head of the cast of Greta Garbo, featured in the Cameo billing. It's a lobby asset rather than a screen recommendation, for the role of a poor one of a rather furtive and bedraggled heroine which does not gain much sympathy. The picture has minor virtues and major defects. The principal drawback is that it's fearfully long and dull, besides being hard to follow in its complications. The central idea is good. The story constantly jumps about in a confusing manner -- something like a Dickens novel."

The New York Times, July 20,1927: "A gray squirrel coat, a butcher whose haircut is a cross between a Bowery bartender and an old-time Tommy Atkins, an overcrowded cabaret, a murder confession, sordid slices from life and a number of other things are mixed up together in a German film called "Streets Of Sorrow." It ends in being about as coherent as the first attempts at futuristic paintings were to the ordinary gallery visitor. Greta Garbo, who has since become a finished screen actress, at the time this picture was produced did not know the elementary rudiments of make-up. She has spoiled her own attractive features through her efforts to add to the languidness of her eyes. She is however, the most interesting personality in this picture, even more so than Werner Krauss, who is just as unnatural in this queer piece of work as he has been natural in others."

Asta Nielson

Asta Nielson was a unique and legendary superstar of the European silent cinema. After attending Copenhagen's Royal Theater, she made her stage debut at 18 and was an established stage personality when she entered Danish films in 1910. After appearing in over 30 Danish films, she went to Germany where she soon became a leading lady. Her acting style was very restrained in comparison with the other screen personalities of that period. One of her last roles was the murderess in "The Joyless Street," and she played all types of characters in the silent era. She pursued a stage career and appeared in one sound film in 1932. When Hitler came into power she returned to Denmark and retired from acting at the onset of World War II.

Werner Krauss

Werner Krauss appeared in many silents and can be seen in "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," "Othello," "Waxworks," "The Student Of Prague," "Secrets Of A Soul," and "Tartuffe." His last appearance was in a German propaganda film in 1940.

G.W. Pabst

"The Joyless Street" was G.W. Pabst's second film, and, after casting his principals, he was undecided whom to cast as the elder daughter of the impoverished upper-class Viennese family. Upon hearing that Greta Garbo, whom he had admired in "Gosta Berling," was in Berlin, he contacted her and offered her the role. Mauritz Stiller, who had directed Garbo in "Gosta Berling," had become her mentor, and he set the terms for his protegeé.

For her work in the film, she was to be paid in American dollars, and the studio was to pay Garbo's living expenses. The film used for the movie was to be the most expensive, and the photographer was to be the cameraman who had photographed her in "Gosta Berling." Eventually, Stiller agreed to use Pabst's cameraman.

Although the picture is now considered a major work, it did not fare very well upon its initial release.

Note: The original release was 139 minutes. The release shown in New York City was 95 minutes, and the copy reviewed here is approximately 60 minutes in length.

The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
The Haunted Screen by Lotte H. Eisner
Who Was Who On the Screen by Evelyn Mack Truitt
The Holt Foreign Film Guide by R. Bergan and R. Karney
Dictionary of Films by Georges Sadoul
Garbo by John Bainbridge.

copyright 2002 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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