In Naples, where prostitutes can pay their rent, Angela is sentenced to a year in the workhouse when she tries to steal(while streetwalking) to pay for medicine for her dying mother. She escapes and is hidden by a circus, where she's a natural talent and meets Gino, a painter. When she breaks her ankle in a fall, her career ends. What can she and Gino do? He wants to go to Naples, but the law may still be looking for her, and Gino doesn't know about her past. Starving artist and a beauty with a secret: is there room in this world for them? Written by
With her ailing mother in need of medicine, pretty poverty-stricken Janet Gaynor (Angela) desperately decides to sell herself for sex on the streets of Naples, Italy. Unable to attract any interested male customers, the innocent-looking Ms. Gaynor steals some money instead. Gaynor is caught, and convicted of "robbery while soliciting." As she is led to serve her year in the workhouse, Gaynor escapes and joins the circus. A leggy attraction, she leaves upon meeting handsome painter Charles Farrell (as Gino). The couple are planning to be married when Gaynor's past threatens to end their happiness
Happiness is foreplay when Gaynor caresses Farrell's feet; in a startling scene, they are the symbols of fertility
"Street Angel" is the lesser known of the three films for which Gaynor won her "Best Actress" Oscar, and it is often mentioned as being the film in which the sweet, wholesome actress played a prostitute. After seeing the film, it's clear she is never really a prostitute; this story, like others from the silent era, makes the prostitutes very clear (without showing any sex), and Gaynor's character is not one of them (you could call her a failed prostitute). Also surprisingly (or not, if you've seen it), this performance by Gaynor is worthy of a "Best Actress" nomination on its own, as was "7th Heaven"
The song sounding like Elvis Presley's "It's Now or Never" is the beautiful Italian standard "O Sole Mio"
Frank Borzage, who won the first "Academy Award" as "Best Director" for his "7th Heaven" (also with Gaynor and Farrell) could have won for this film. It may not be up to Frank Murnau's "Sunrise" levels, but "Street Angel" is still extraordinarily beautiful. The photography by Ernest Palmer and Paul Ivano, along with the settings by Harry Oliver also received award attention (outside of its initial eligibility year). You'll see why. The only thing keeping "Street Angel" from perfect is the rather too ordinary, overused storyline; moreover, its celebration of virginity is taken to pretentious extremes.
********* Street Angel (4/8/28) Frank Borzage ~ Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Alberto Rabagliati, Natalie Kingston
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