USA | 1928 | 76 min | PG
“Probably the last genuinely great silent film made in Hollywood” according to MoMA curator Charles Silver, Josef von Sternberg’s The Docks of New York is a hardboiled, simmering and sultry masterpiece of the late silent era. Simplistic, yet evocative and moving, it’s a stylish atypical romance set amidst the decaying, rough and tumble waterfront of New York.
George Bancroft is at his burliest as Bill Roberts, a libertine coal stoker newly arrived to the docks from a barge for a night of debauchery. Upon discovering a prostitute (Betty Compson) attempting to take her life by jumping into the frigid waters, Bill saves her and stows her away at the local saloon “The Sandbar.” After an impulsive marriage—hilariously and tragically set within the lurid bar—they attempt to negotiate their dour circumstances of poverty and strife.
Also featuring Olga Baclanova as Lou, the estranged wife of Bill’s lecherous colleague, the performances in The Docks of New York are mesmerizing, as is the stunning cinematography of Harold Rosson who would go on to perfect the look of The Wizard of Oz. Another major star of the picture, the impressive sets designed on the Paramount lot by German émigré Hans Drier—both Drier and von Sternberg extensively researched the New York waterfront to achieve the perfect look and feel for the film. Anticipating the greatness of von Sternberg’s sound career with films such as the Dietrich-starring The Blue Angel, Blonde Venus, and Shanghai Express, The Docks of New York is an absolute must-see. – ALICIA FLETCHER
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Cast: Betty Compson, George Bancroft, Olga Baclanova
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Presentation format: Digital
Live piano accompaniment by Marilyn Lerner
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