The Joyless Street (1925) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • In post-WWI Vienna, Greta (Greta Garbo), her kid sister, and retired dad try to make it through tough times.

  • Vienna in the biggest depression, directly after WW1. In a slum, Lila Leid, the wife of lawyer Leid is murdered, Egon, secretary of one of Leid's clients is arrested. He was with her, and had her necklace, because he needed some money for his own stock exchange deals. The same deal brings poverty to ex-government official Rumfort, his daughter Greta, who also has lost her job, tries to get some money to get food. She rents a room of the flat she, her young sister and her father are living in to an American Red Cross official, who pays $60 rent, but the money is taken by some of her father's creditors. But their neighbour, shop owner Mrs Greifer knows how to "help", she and Mrs. Merkel are running a nightclub with a brothel...

  • In the post-WW1 in Vienna, a group of millionaires decide to manipulate the stock market with rumors to make it fall in the first moment and raise when people discover the truth. The ambitious Egon Stirner loves Regina Rosenow, who is the daughter of a wealthy man and she does not believe in his feelings. Egon has a love affair with Lia Leid, who is the wife of the wealthy Dr. Leid, and he asks if she may borrow some money to him to invest in the stock market. Meanwhile the secretary Marie has an unrequited love for Egon and decides to ask for a loan to Mrs. Greifer, who is the owner of a brothel in the poor Melchior Street, to give to Egon. The wealthy Don Alfonso Canez offers the amount to Marie and she goes to a room with him. When Lia is mysteriously murdered in a room in the same hotel, Marie falsely accuses Egon of killing her to Canez. Meanwhile, the bureaucrat Hofrat Rumfort is not aware of the manipulation of the market and believes that is rich with the fall of the stocks and he spends a great amount. His daughter Greta loses her job and they are forced to rent a room in their apartment to the Red Cross Lieutenant Davis that pays a large amount to her. However she is forced use the money to pay the debts of her father. The only way to make money to feed the family is prostitution in Mrs. Greifer's brothel. What will be the fate of Greta?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Plot Synopsis: Die freudlose Gasse The Joyless Street

    Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst Writer: Hugo Bettauer

    Using a cane to assist himself Counselor Hofrat Rumfort (Jaro Fürth) talks with his adult daughter Greta Rumfort (Greta Garbo) as they slowly stroll through a dimly lit street passing under an archway. Fallowing behind is Mr. Lechner (Max Kohlhase) and his grown daughter Maria Lechner (Asta Nielsen). Mr. Lechner is severely hobbled by the use of his wooden leg as Maria trails behind and grasps her scarf tightly around her neck as they too walk under the archway.

    Illuminated by gaslight, three children play on Melchior Street as Hofrat, Greta, Mr. Lechner and Maria walk out of an alleyway. People in tattered clothes appear as the butcher of Melchior Street, Josef Geiringer (Werner Krauss) and his white Great Dane come out onto the street from his basement butcher shop. The Josef places a sign on the wall saying, tomorrow morning, frozen meat from Argentina and turns smiling toward the crowd displaying his rotund belly and smoking a cigar. The crowd gathers close to read the sign. Nodding his head and holding his hand up to the crowd Josef smiles. He brushes his mustache while still holding his cigar and looks down the road and walks toward a car as it drives down Melchior Street approaching the butcher shop.

    The crowd has increased to round twenty people mixed with women, elderly men and children. Opening the back door of the car Josef joyfully greets Mrs. Greifer (Valeska Gert) who is the proprietor of the Merkel Hotel run under the secrecy of a fashion boutique. Josef and Mrs. Greifer laugh and flirt with one another, as she exists the car with her friend. Josef walks back to his butcher shop as the crowd of mostly angry women dressed in ragged shawls begins to mob him. Holding his arms high in the air Josef advises them to form a line and wait until morning for the meat. Turning around Josef slams the door as he descends down into his butcher shop.

    Mr. Lechner and Maria arrive home to their tiny basement apartment. Mr. Lechner limps past Maria's Mother (Sylvia Torf) as she nervously scrubs clothes with a washboard in a bucket of water. Looking at the empty bowls on the dinning table Mr. Lechner becomes angry and slams his hand on the table demanding food as Mr. Lechner lowers her head and intensifies her scrubbing. Grasping her hands Maria is questioned why she has not brought any food home. Mr. Lechner attempts to hit Maria with his cane as she runs to her room separated from the rest of the living area by only a sheet. Sobbing, Maria collapses on her bed.

    Upstairs Counselor Rumfort, Greta and younger sister Rosa Rumfort (Loni Nest) sit down in their dinning room for dinner. Counselor Rumfort reads the paper as Greta severs Cabbage soup while Rosa complains more cabbage! Rosa pushes her bowl away and Greta slides it back encouraging her to be patient since the butcher will have meat tomorrow morning. Agreeing they all reluctantly eat their Cabbage soup together. Greta kisses Rosa on the head and explains shes going to stand in line all night to purchase some meat. Standing and placing his hand over his heart to thank Greta, Counselor Rumfort watches, as she exists the room.

    Downstairs in the Lechners apartment, Maria composes a letter to her lover Egon Stirner (Henry Stuart) professing her longing desire to be with him and that she finds happiness only in his arms. Gazing at flower Maria imagines his face smiling back at her. Maria smiles, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Folding the letter Maria hears her mother approaching and hurriedly stuffs the letter down her blouse. Mrs. Lechner ushers Maria to go and stand in line for meat at the butcher shop. Wrapping her shawl around her shoulders Maria slowly walks out of her apartment and stands in line.

    In line, Greta leans against a building for support. Angered by a few people leaning on his door Josef pushes them backward and threatens to call the police if they dont get back as he takes his Great Dane for a walk. Greta finds a seat next to Maria as Josef comes back with a few police officers. The police push and shove the people in line up against the building creating a more hostile situation.

    Smoking a cigar and clad in a three-piece suit Don Alfonso Canez (Robert Garrison) a heavy man, checks into the Carlton Hotel. Upon arriving at the Carlton Hotel Egon is escorted to the dining room after he checks his coat and gloves. Egon sits down and is introduced as Don Alfonsos business partner and lawyer Dr. Leids (Alexander Murski) assistant. Don Alfonso discusses how the Petrowitz mines are the sole supplier of charcoal for Vienna. Dr. Leid explains how they are going to spread a false strike rumor and buy the company stock for a low price. Eagerly lessoning to their plan Egon is disrupted by Regina Rosenow (Agnes Esterhazy) who asks him to dance.

    Dancing across the dance floor and through some glass French doors Egon catches the eye of Lia Leid (Tamara Geva) just before she joins Dr. Leid and Don Alfonso for dinner. Egon and Regina find a secluded set. Teasing Egons professed love Regina claims his interest in her is only do to her large fortune. Egon claims this to be false and pleads with Regina to believe his love is true. Egon and Regina return to the dance floor where they meet with Lia and Don Alfonso who are dancing together. Lia changes partners and dances with Egon away from Regina through the French doors requesting to speck with Egon in private about Regina. In the seating room, Lia makes a pass at Egon while sitting on the arm of his chair. Egon slowly grabs Lias long multi strand pearl necklace and pulls her onto his lap embracing her for a kiss. Pleased, Lia pull away from the kiss and talks of her desire to find discrete place to be alone with Egon. Egon laughs and declares he know of a place on Melchior Street. Agreeing to meet in disguise the couple return meet Regina and Don Alfonso. Returning to their table Regina congratulates Egon for being a playboy and seducing Lia. Egon escorts the ladies home as Dr. Leid and Don Alfonso head to the Merkel Hotel.

    As Dr. Leid and Don Alfonso arrive onto Melchior Street in their limousine their headlights illuminate the faces line of people awaiting meat. Knocking three times Dr. Leid and Don Alfonso are granted entrance to the Merkel Hotel. Shaking hands with Mrs. Greifer and her assistant, Dr. Leid and Don Alfonso are led into the brothels lounge to party. Don Alfonso raises his glass and toasts to a happy Vienna as the hungry crowd waits for meat outside.

    Exhausted Greta nearly faints and is helped to a set by some women. After waiting all night long Josef tells the crowd there will be no meat for them. Some to the women complain as Josef smoking his cigar and spits in their direction. Greta faints almost falling of her stool she is helped to her feet by an elderly woman and police officer. The elderly woman helps Greta home and hands to her father.

    Two of Mrs. Greifers prostitutes arrive at the butcher shop as the crowd becomes increasingly restless. Maria and another girl watch as the two prostitutes tap on Josefs basement window and ask to come in. Pleased, Josef smiles nods his head toward the door and signals for the prostitutes to come in. Standing in the shadows Maria sees her father hobbling down Melchior Street. Fearing to go home with out any meat Maria and her friend knock on Josefs window. Josef pets his Great Dane as he watches them inter his shop. After eyeing the Marias friend up and down Josef bring a large piece of meat to the butchers block and cuts a slab off for her. Not wrapping the meat he hands her the piece and then pinches her face with his bloody hand just before she exits the shop. Cutting off a piece for Maria, Josef reaches out to hand it to her but she freezes with fear and runs out of the shop. Laughing Josef throws the steak to his dog.

    Later that morning Gretas coworker laugh at her warn coat as she arrives ant her typist job. Gretas boss requests he to take a dictation in his office. There he makes a pass at her tapping he on the knee and chin suggesting she had too much fun the night before. After Greta jumps to her feet her boss offers an advance on her salary so that she wont be mad. With the money sticking halfway out of her pocket Greta returns to her seat. All the office girls see the money, jump to conclusions and gossip about Gretas character.

    Counselor Rumfort retires and receives the cash equivalent of two years of his salary. Maria visits Egon in his home where she begs to live with him saying she will make him happy. But Egon claims financial gain is the only way hell become happy. Egon explains he could turn one hundred dollars into five hundred in the stock market and laughs at Maria as she claims she will find the money for him. Counselor Rumfort buys Petrowitz stocks in an attempt to make reliable investment. Meanwhile at the Carlton the plot to spread the rumor of a strike continues.

    Rosa sets dishes for dinner as Counselor Rumfort surprises her with arms full of food and wine. Delighted Rosa carefully unwraps the food and Greta brings out a severing bowl. Stunned Greta learns of her fathers stock purchase but not of his retirement. While Rosa eats Greta and her father toast to good fortune. Looking at Gretas raged coat Counselor Rumfort send her and Rosa shopping to buy a new coat.

    In Mrs. Greifer boutique Greta finds a fur coat that both her and Rosa love. As Greta is encouraged to try it on by Mrs. Greifer Maria come into the shop hoping to borrow a hundred dollars. Even thou Greta does not have enough money to pay for the coat Mrs. Greifer allows her take the coat home. After shooing two of her prostitutes back to work Mrs. Greifer joins Maria in a sitting room only to tell her to sit down and wait a little longer. At the Carlton, Regina asks Lias husband where she is, Dr. Leid claims Lia is at the opera and will join them latter. In the meantime Egon and Lia have made plans to meet at the Merkel Hotel. Tired of waiting for Mrs. Greifer Maria opens the door to the Merkel Hotels lounge and makes eye contact with Don Alfonso. Hearing Marias desire to borrow a hundred dollars Don Alfonso waves the money in front of Maria and brings her into the brothels lounge.

    At midnight in one of the hotel rooms, Don Alfonso is dressing as Maria lessons to a conversation in the adjacent room. Agreeing to join Don Alfonso latter she continues to ease drop. After Don Alfonso leaves Maria pulls open the curtains that cover a door. Standing on the bed Maria peers through the window at the top the door. Seeing Egon kissing the back of Lia, Maria watches as Lia takes off her pearls and gives them to Egon. As Egon kisses Lias hand and places the pearls in his pocket as he leaves the hotel room. Lia sits back on the bed and checks her makeup with a small hand held mirror. Maria steps down from the bed and pushes it away from the door. Opening the door to Lias room Maria inters slowly. Fixing her hair and makeup Lia doesnt hear Maria approach. With her hand outstretched Maria grabs Lias throat and strangles her to death.

    Back at the Carlton Lias husband has begun to worry. Spotting Egons arrival Regina declares Lia will be there soon. Also at the Carlton, Lieutenant Davy (Einar Hanson) of the American Red Cross tells his Colonel Irving (Mario Cusmich) of his plans to find residence in a poor neighborhood to get a real feel for the true Vienna. Finding out something horrible has happened to his wife Dr. Leid rushes out of the Carlton. After hearing of Lias murder Regina over hears Egons plot to buy three hundred dollars worth of Petrowitz stock.

    The investigation into Lias murder starts at the Merkel Hotel where Don Alfonso is wrongfully implemented in the crime. As the police officer attempts to arrest Don Alfonso he pulls from his pocket his identification showing a consulars passport. Apologizing the policeman inquires about Maria. Don Alfonso states Maria is an employee of the consulate. Saved from further inquiry Maria is hugged Don Alfonso.

    The next day Greta is greeted warmly by her coworkers as they admire her new fur coat. Fending off her bosses sexual advances Greta quits her job. At home Gretas father becomes frantic seeing his stock value plunge.

    Regina confronts Egon, telling him he will surly be blamed for Lias murder and that they should runaway together. Having read about Lias murder in the paper Egon is shocked Regina finds him guilty and doesnt fear a police inquest. Strolling past a jewelry store window with Maria, Don Alfonso notices a strand of pearls. Entering the shop Don Alfonso buys Lias pearls for Maria.

    Returning home after quit her job Greta learns her fathers stock is worthless and he has taken an early retirement. Understanding their dire circumstances Greta comes up with an idea to rent out one of their rooms. Attempting to giveback her fur coat to Mrs. Greifer offers to introduce Greta to a rich man on Thursday. Lieutenant Davis finds the sign Greta posted advertising a furnished room for rent in her familys flat. Coyly Greta flirts and shows Lieutenant Davis the room. Lieutenant Davis offers to pay sixty dollars a month in rent and gives Greta a full months rent in advance. Leaving Lieutenant Davis hopes to become good friends with Greta. Shortly after Lieutenant Davis leaves Counselor Rumfort debt collector arrives and demands payment. Handing over the sixty dollars Greta and her family are once again penniless. Watching Rosa lick a can of food clean Lieutenant Davis gives her a can of fruit and condensed milk for herself. Pleased Rosa runs and shows her father. But Counselor Rumfort is insulted by Lieutenant Davis generosity. Interrupting Greta and Lieutenant Davis conversation Counselor Rumfort gives back the cans creating an awkward atmosphere.

    At the Merkel Hotel Maria wrongfully confesses she witnessed Egon strangle Lia to Don Alfonso. Dresses in extravagant clothes and wearing Lias pearls Maria reenacts the whole murder. Afterward, Maria removes all her jewelry, gives it to Don Alfonso and walks out of the Merkel Hotel.

    Lieutenant Davis friend accidentally broke a window and send Greta to find a glassmaker. Over hearing the same friend claim he witnessed Rosa carry off two cans of marmalade, Counselor Rumfort becomes enraged. Insulted at the idea of a Rumfort stealing Counselor Rumfort asks Lieutenant Davis to move out immediately. Returning with the glassmaker Greta hears the argument and finds the marmalade Rosa stole. As Greta hands the marmalade to her father she pleas for him to apologize to Lieutenant Davis. While Greta attempts to apologize for the marmalade Lieutenant Davis superior officer ushers him out of the flat. Saddened by the events Lieutenant Davis is beginning to have romantic feeling for Greta. Ashamed of what has become of his family Counselor Rumfort collapses and urgently needs a doctor. Understanding Counselor Rumfort collapse as a result of malnutrition the doctor hands Greta some money for food. However Greta has to pay for the broken window and is again penniless. Greta meets with Mrs. Greifer and Josef over tea at the Merkel Hotel. Mrs. Greifer offers to help Greta only if Greta will adorn her next party. Agreeing Greta barrows some money from Mrs. Greifer and shakes her hand.

    Arrested Egon under goes a formal inquire and is charged for Lias murder. Marias heath is declining and returns home to her parents. Distraught that Egon is formally charged for Lias murder Maria

    Declaring her love to Egon in jailhouse Regina informs him she has left her parents for him. Meanwhile Egon is call away to the detectives office where Maria awaits with the detective. Maria confesses to the murder claiming insanity and that her love for Egon drove her into a jealous rage. The charges against Egon dropped.

    At Mrs. Greifers party Lieutenant Davis and his friends enjoy themselves. Greta nervously arrives and watches, as the experienced girls get ready. Peeking through some curtains covering a doorway into the party Greta spots Lieutenant Davis. Greta recoils and is offered her choose of evening gowns. Defiantly Greta refuses and is forced into a dress.

    At home Counselor Rumfort learns Greta paid his debt of sixty dollars. Asking Rosa where Greta was Counselor Rumfort realized what Greta was about to prostitute herself to feed the family and hurriedly runs to stop her.

    Back at Mrs. Greifers party scantily clad Greta finds herself in danger. Chased from room to room by a suitor Greta stumbles into the main party where Lieutenant Davis and his friends are drinking. Horrified Lieutenant Davis stands and runs after Greta. Catching up with Greta in her dressing room Lieutenant Davis yells at her, saying she should be ashamed. Attempting to cover herself Greta crosses her arms holding her shoulders. Greta explains she is just like all the other girls trying to fend off her familys starvation. Discussed Lieutenant Davis asks what happened to the sixty dollars he gave her for rent. Throwing money at Greta Lieutenant Davis storms out of the room. Dressed in his coat and ready to leave the Merkel Hotel Lieutenant Davis runs into Counselor Rumfort at the door. Exhausted from hunger Counselor Rumfort nearly collapses as he explains what has happened to Lieutenant Davis rent money and why Greta felt she had no choice but to prostitute herself. Feeling guilty Counselor Rumfort begs for Lieutenant Davis to forgive him and Greta. Walking into Gretas dressing room Counselor Rumfort holds her as Lieutenant Davis wraps her fur coat around her. Slowly Greta, Counselor Rumfort and Lieutenant Davis walk out of the Merkel Hotel together as the partygoers cheer.

    On Melchior Street an angry crowd gathers under the Merkel Hotel and begins to throw rocks sending the partiers fleeing. The starved people gather outside of Josefs butcher shop as a woman runs up to Josef begging for meat for her child. Josef claims to have meat but not for her child and throws her backward as he descends into his shop with his Great Dane. Instantly driven to insanity the woman breaks into butcher shop killing Josef before running onto the street and escaping. While Mrs. Greifer and her friend hide in the Merkel Hotel. Melchior Street becomes still.


    Synopsis by: Michele Geary

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