Joyless Street is a film I remember trying to watch years ago when I was first becoming interested in classic films. The film is included in a pack of one hundred classic films that my mom bought me for Christmas one year. I tried watching Joyless Street since I had never seen Greta Garbo in a film before but at the time I was not completely interested in silent films. I had tried before this to watch a silent Alfred Hitchcock film and that did not work out too well. And now look at me I run a movie blog where I watch silent films every Sunday!
The story takes place in Vienna after World War I. There are more people living in the slums than there are living in comfort. In the slums the poor and their needs are taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. In one slum the only rich people are a butcher and a woman named Madame Gill who runs a boutique for the wealthy as well as a cabaret.
A girl named Maria comes home one night without any food. Her father chases her into her room and nearly beats her. Upstairs from Maria, lives a father with his two daughters. He has worked as a civil servant for many years and is thus making some money and is able to put some food on the table. His oldest daughter Greta (Garbo) goes to wait outside on a line just to try to get meat. From standing all night Greta faints from exhaustion but must head back home since she has work the following morning.
At work two other women in the office snicker at Greta’s beat up fur lined jacket. The boss comes down and wants to see her in the office. All the other workers think Greta is doing something with the boss and the boss thinks she is a prostitute and is always looking to have his way with her. The boss gives Greta her pay in advance since he can see on her face that she is exhausted.
Greta’s father sees in the paper that as a civil servant he will be able to cash in his pension. He is given the option to cash the whole thing in or put it towards investing in a company. He decides to invest it in a mine. Unfortunately the mine he invests his pension in is being run by crooked men who want to create a rumor about the mine and drive the stock prices down and sell it. Obviously the father does not know this information. He believes that he will be making a lot of money. He tells Greta to go out and buy herself a nice coat. The next day Greta wears her new coat to work. The boss now definitely believes she is a prostitute and tries to have his way with her. She fights him off and in anger tells her to never come back that he does not want a girl like her working in his office.
With no job and now her father’s pension no more she decides to rent out the extra room in their apartment and sell her jacket. Apparently she bought her jacket from Maria but Maria tells Greta to keep the jack and pay her back when she can. A young American working with a relief commission has come to town to help the poor. He is taken to a nightclub where all the rich have gone to dance and have a good time. He is upset it is not the Vienna he has come to help and declares that he is going to find a room in a poor neighborhood. Well as luck will have it he finds the room that Greta is letting. Of course after some time Greta and the American become close.
Eventually Greta and her family become desperate for money. She decides to go to Madame Gills for a job in her cabaret. The American finds her before she can go on stage and becomes enraged that she would stoop so low. Her father comes just in time to tell the American the only reason Greta took the job was because of him since he could not bring in any money. But now he has been given money back from his pension so Greta does not have to work at the cabaret. The American goes to her to bring her back home.
The original run of Joyless Street is over two hours long. The cut that I was able to find and watch ran for an hour. From what I was able to find of the plot there are several more characters and storylines which were cut for English speaking audiences due to censorship issues. I did not mind the story in the version that I watched. I felt terrible for Greta’s father who was ripped off just so rich people could make even more money. Sadly the world is still running that way. Garbo was fantastic as always. Her face and body language just conveyed so much more than words could say about her character’s position and feelings. Joyless Street is worth watching to see Greta Garbo in her first leading role. It is available to view in full on YouTube.