July 24, 2015

Janet Gaynor, Street Angel

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress

I thought I'd save Street Angel for last amongst this year's set of films because it just so happens that I remembered this one the least from my initial watch years ago. Rightfully so; Street Angel is a little bit of a mess, its narrative running rampant with little cohesiveness in between. We see Janet Gaynor going from impoverished, impromptu hooker/thief/street solicitor to impromptu escaped convict to circus performer (?) to lovestruck housewife in a matter of about half an hour. Strange indeed, but at least in this film Gaynor is able to present a new side of her for once that wasn't already present in Sunrise or 7th Heaven; aside from her obvious illicit background in the film, she gives attitude! It's almost jarring because up until this point, it seemed as though the only thing Gaynor could do was be sweet and heartbroken. The odd thing is that the random shift in Angela's characteristics is completely spontaneous and only relevant to about a quarter of the film, never to be really seen again for the rest of the flick, which in turn kind of underscores how messy it is to begin with. I'm not even sure how I feel about seeing Gaynor, youthful and childlike as she is, pouting and pantomiming like a baby brat--at times it feels like this angle on Angela is completely off base and out of reach. But once the segment is done with and the film shifts towards her and Charles Farrell's romance, I was so impressed. Obviously, this is due to the fact that that Gaynor is working up in territory for which she is more suited for, but she is beautifully poignant in depicting Angela's guilt and heartbreak once her past comes back to haunt her. I thought that the entire goodbye/dinner sequence is handled masterfully by Gaynor, and had her performance maintained that level of excellence I'd have been more inclined to grade her a little higher. But it's a solid effort in a daunting three-headed offering on Gaynor's part, rounding out her shown strength and dominant contributions to film during that particular period in Oscar history.

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