15 July 2006 | Diosprometheus
The Sorrows of Joyless Street
The Sorrows of "The Joyless Street"
Director Georg Wilhelm Pabst's "The Joyless Street" is one of the most censored and mutilated films in history. The film premier on May 18, 1925 in Berlin. The film was a sensation and launched the new reality movement in German film-making.
The film was based on Hugo Bettauer's 1924 serialized novel. The film version would propel Greta Garbo to international fame.
Bettauer would never see the premier of the film based on his novel. On March 26, 1925, Beattauer was dead. Otto Rothstock, a national socialist thug, had shot him to death. Bettauer had ironically written a highly controversial dystopian satirical novel, called "A City Without Jews, A Novel About The Day After Tomorrow." The novel was about the expulsion of the Jews from Austria. Had he lived, Bettauer would have seen his fictitious world become a prophetic reality in 1938.
The original version of "The Joyless Street" was a dark study of life in hyper-inflation Vienna in the wake of the Great War. It was about poverty and despair in a defeated country. In the original film, as in the book, Pabst set out to tell the story how inflation destroyed the sundry spectra of society and led to people to live lives of impoverishment, desperation and despair. Pabst would tell his story through the lives of two main characters, Marie and Greta. Nielson would play Marie, a poverty stricken character with a brutal and cruel father who would prostitute herself for the man she loves but who despises her. Garbo would play Greta, the daughter of a foolish and sickly middle class bureaucrat, would would resist the temptation of easy money and prostitution.
The film shocked European governments. England banned the film from public viewing. Italy, France, Austria and elsewhere would show the film only after it had been considerably mutilated.
Americans thought that the only value of the film was the presence of Greta Garbo. Curiously, Garbo was paid in American dollars rather than worthless German ones.
As a result, most of the available versions of this film were cut to make the international sensation Great Garbo the star the film over the top billed Asta Nielson, who played a woman driven to murder.
Over the years, Nielson's leading part in the film will almost entirely vanish like the Jews in Bettauer's novel.
Garbo was the second lead to the once legendary Asta Nielson.
Most of the story line involving Asta Nielson's character Maria Lechner was cut out of the film.
Most of the story line involving Warner Krauss' abhorrent butcher of Melchoir Street was cut out of the film.
Other story lines, involving other characters, were cut out or toned down.
International censorship removed these segments long ago. They were deemed too controversial and too dangerously political.
When the film was released in America in 1927, Asta Nielson's character was edited out except for a brief part at the beginning.
In 1937, this version was re-released with synchronized music and sound effects. It is this terrible version people have most likely seen.
The result of this censorious butchery a sappy happy Hollywood like ending where an American saves Greta from a life of hunger, misery and prostitution replaced the human tragedy that Pabst was intent on showing in "The Joyless Street".
Rumors persist that Marlene Dietrich had a part in this film. There is no evidence that she ever had a role in this film.
The German actress Herta Von Walther played the part of the woman in Butcher's line who comforts Greta when she collapsed. In the original version, Herta had a bigger part that involved prostituting herself to the Butcher.
Herta Von Walther is forgotten today, but she made four films with director Georg Wilhelm Pabst between the years 1925 and 1928. The four are "The Joyless Street", "Secrets of a Soul", "The Love of Jeanne Ney", "Abwege".
There is no record of director Georg Wilhelm Pabst having ever made any films with Marlene Dietrich. Still the rumors persist.
In 1999, the Munich Filmmuseum partially restored this this film. A 16 mm reduction positive exists in the museum.
Today, the film is mostly remembered as the last European role the timorous, timid Greta Garbo played before coming to America with her mentor Maurice Stiller. In the January 1932 edition of Photoplay magazine, Ruth Biery wrote, "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer paid her $250 a week to secure him for the movies. It is hard to say, "The Joyless Street" is a good or poor picture in its mutilated form but it did not harm Greta Garbo.