Monday, December 06, 2010
The Docks of New York
Josef von Sternberg's The Docks of New York is a classic silent movie that will hold your attention if you give it a chance. The themes of love and sex are quadrangular with a fifth character Andy (Mitchell Lewis) as comic relief.
A tough stoker of steamer ships has one day's leave and wants to enjoy it. He saves a prostitute who tries to commit suicide by drowning herself. He's a tough guy, really tough - he can outfight everyone in the low-life bar near the docks where all the action happens and it does. George Bancroft is magnificent in this silent role - he is tall and has presence. He almost plays to the camera and it works. Students of film and acting could learn a lot from watching this performance. If he were around now and playing tough guys he'd outclass most of the field 83 years later - the film was made in 1928. It is also set in the time when stokers were necessary to run ships (and trains) but it's down in the bowels of the ship and it is a job from hell.
Von Sternberg's masterly direction means you won't miss a beat and there's rare times when your attention flags. The love story between Bancroft and Betty Compson (Mae) is moving and the tension offered both by the plot and Bancroft in portraying this tough good time guy fluctuate between love's commitment and pleasure satisfied's flight is very effective. The denouement is excellent and the final scenes touching. I note that you can probably see this film on youtube. Try and give it attention. It's well worth it.