Thursday, May 7, 2009

Docks Of New York

(1928, USA, 7202 feet [c.76m], b/w)
d Josef von Sternberg p J.G. Bachman sc Jules Furthman ph Harold Rosson ed Helen Lewis ad Hans Dreier cast George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova, Clyde Cook, Mitchell Lewis, Gustav von Seyffertitz, George Irving

With one night’s shore-leave, Bill the stoker rescues a suicide, marries her, and ships out in the morning. Sternberg’s last silent inspired Chaplin to claim that Hollywood had perfected its art (just as sound came along): the performances are vivid, and Sternberg’s skill with emotionally-loaded photography is unparalleled, but forget realism in character or setting – this is one of his enclosed fantasy worlds, the Bacchanalian dockside tavern filled with a Boschian sea of grotesques, resolutely outside normative moral codes; on the waterfront, all is shadows and fog; and the chiaroscuro stoker’s hole from which love redeems our hero is a fiery pit of hell. Bancroft’s eyes display wary intelligence behind his beefy exterior; Compson is simultaneously hard and vulnerable as a girl who’s had “too many good times”; and despite an excess of world-weary self-pity, bar-wench Baclanova slouches splendidly as the disillusioned embodiment of Compson’s future, pace the guarded (and uncharacteristic) optimism with which Sternberg ends.

© Time Out Film Guide

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