- A silent film that you'll forget is silent. 2/13/1999 12:00:00 AM by Grapeape-2
Long before Renoir or Welles experimented with depth of field, Sternberg was employing it in his silent films, and perhaps most beautifully in The Docks of New York. The mise-en-scene is so incredible in this movie that many critics accuse the movie of being overly concerned with imagery, and less concerned with plot. The plot is simple, yet it allows Sternberg to concentrate on what he appears to be most concerned with--developing character psychology. One is reminded of the rich characters in Greed when watching this film, yet the sense of despair is underplayed in Docks creating a much more subtle film than Stroheim's.
Many critics claim that Docks shows a near-perfect mastery of silent technique. Yet, the film remains somewhat obscure because it was released in 1928, when the novelty of the first "talkies" was overshadowing silent films such as Docks. If you are at all interested in film history or just plain good films see The Docks of New York.
- Another great silent from 1928 8/11/2004 12:00:00 AM by rbyers
One of the fascinating things about the movie to me was that, before he fetishized Dietrich, Sternberg's erotic sensibility seems broader. The opening scene of the men in the boiler room of a ship, wiping oil and coal dust from their gleaming skin, is one of the few times that he dwells on the male body that I can recall. And George Bancroft's swaggering, boisterous Bill is the most virile male I've seen in any of Sternberg's movies -- other than Bancroft as Bull Weed in UNDERWORLD from the year before. Of course, once Betty Compson splashes into the story, the camera loves her world-weary, wry beauty, and Sternberg constantly reminds us that she's naked under her clothing. As in his later, sound films, the settings are also sensual and full of complicated textures, reflections, and depth, with some great dockside shots in a foggy night.
The story itself is a fairly simple, but it has a warmth and genuine (or even sentimental) sympathy for love that is perhaps lost in the power struggles of Sternberg's Dietrich films. All four major characters are strongly drawn, rough-hewn, and well-played. Along with Bancroft and Compson, Olga Baclanova (of FREAKS fame) is also especially good as a sailor's bitter, abandoned wife. The dialogue in the intertitles is full of hard-boiled gems, as when the wedding ceremony is rendered, "If any of you eggs know why these heels shouldn't get hitched, speak now or forever after hold your trap!"
Kevin Brownlow says in THE PARADE'S GONE BY that THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK is Sternberg's finest film, and it may be so. I love the Dietrich films, and the bizarre SHANGHAI GESTURE, but DOCKS stands out for the sweet grittiness.
- A masterpiece 1/3/2005 12:00:00 AM by mik-19
Of course, no waterfront in the world was ever as deliciously seedy as set designer Hans Dreier's in this amazingly atmospheric and evocative masterpiece of late silent cinema. The story is rather tawdry, cheapish even, but plots are very rarely the point of a movie anyway, and Josef von Sternberg has made the perfect film out of next to nothing.
'The Docks of New York' is about a rough and ready stoker, Bill (George Bancroft), on leave for the night. He goes to the Sandbar and gets into a brawl with Hymn-Book Harry (the ever sleazy Gustav von Seyffertitz), and on the way back saves a young girl, Mae the tough kookie (Betty Compson) from drowning herself. Slowly they sorta kinda fall in love and he marries her on the spur of the moment, but what will they do the next morning when Bill is supposed to sail off again? The most astonishing thing about 'The Docks of New York' is its subtlety. We have no heroes or simplified villains here, just people who have had a hard time all their lives and are reluctant to be redeemed. The concept of love in this sneering, loud-mouthed environment is completely alien. "I hope you have better luck than me", says Olga Baclanova's character to Mae on her way to the slammer, "but I doubt it". It is Baclanova who says on the subject of decency that she was decent "before I got married".
It goes without saying that the film is acted as naturalistically as anything we see today, that Compson & Bancroft absolutely shine as the unlikely lovers, grittily played and with no sentimentality. The lighting is superb, photography stupendous, direction acute, and the edition you are most likely to see looks fabulous.
- Joseph von Sternberg's greatest film! 10/8/1998 12:00:00 AM by Pat-54
Intense drama that has a story line so strong that after awhile you forget the film is silent. Performances by George Bancroft and Betty Compson are brilliant. Curious that this film is not better known or praised more by critics. A true example of how artistic silent films became right before the advent of sound.
- Impressive acting 12/11/2009 12:00:00 AM by Igenlode Wordsmith
For me, this comes a close second to "Underworld" in Sternberg's films: the twists and turns of the melodramatic plot become ultimately a little too much for me to swallow (a twist too far?), and I found some of the camera devices simply distracting, but even so the film is more or less won by virtue of the impressive acting from all concerned. Betty Compson (who was soon to receive a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her role in the part-talkie "The Barker") stands out as the fragile, cynical girl who has "had too many good times" already but allows herself to believe in the possibility of redemption; Baclanova is memorable as the petty officer's deserted wife, while George Bancroft is a cheerful, callous but not unkindly Colossus of a stoker. The weary, sensitive features of Gustav von Seyffertitz, in a small role as the threadbare Bible-basher who ministers to this godless 'flock', also make a strong impression. The film is almost all atmosphere, but it is atmosphere well-done.