Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Docks of New York (Josef von Sternberg) ***1/2

Director: Josef von Sternberg

Cast: George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova, Clyde Cook

Story: Bill Roberts (Bancroft) is a coal worker on a steam ship who rescues Mae (Betty Compson) from a suicide attempt, leading to an unlikely romance.

Thoughts: A fresh and appealing story with a central romance that really works. Von Sternberg (reuniting with Bancroft from 1927's Underworld) once again creates fascinating characters that find their way together out of sad, desperate situations. Moreover, they feel like authentic characters that have real problems. And he found two actors that really connect. You really want to believe that these two people will figure out how to make it work. The film is also populated with very interesting supporting characters. Olga Baclanova is terrific as an engineer's wife and Clyde Cook makes a great villain as the engineer. All of this is punctuated by some wonderful cinematography.

Postscript: Like many of Von Sternberg's films, The Docks of New York enjoys a solid reputation today despite not being available on DVD. Both Compson and Bancroft had long careers as character actors, while Von Sternberg would continue a long and distinguished directing career.

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