The Docks of New York

1928 silent drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Career stoker Bill Roberts enjoys a night away from the bowels the boat, engaging in a bit of thuggery and floozy hunting and general nincompoopery. He's kind of like the 1920s white equivalent to our modern-day 50 Cent. I think his friends even call him Fitty. While strolling along the docks, he spots a beautiful gal attempting to end her life by jumping into the bay. He dives in and saves her.

I did not like Bill Roberts as a character nor George Bancroft's portrayal of a tough guy, silent acting that didn't go beyond standing over there and looking tough followed by a bit of standing over there and looking tough, lots of hands-on-hips muscle flexin'. He's a flat thug. I thought Betty Compson was great as Mae though, just the right amounts of vulnerability mixed in with this surprising control and charm. Cute as a goddamn button, too, that classical silent movie way where the beauty radiates from big gray-lit eyes and pours into my living room. You root for her not only because she's easy on the eyes but because she's fragile and you just know that Bill's going to screw everything up somehow because he's a big bastard. The narrative is typical silent drama, forcing a pair of misfits to fall hopelessly in love in less than fifteen minutes. Still, there's something kind of sweet about their romance, one that my cynical mind figured would end more tragically than it did. Their romance is a little brightness in a dreary world. Never before has the bleak blacks and greasy grays and wilted whites of 1920's cinema seemed more appropriate then it does in Bill and Mae's world. von Sternberg knows how to tell a story with a camera, too. Its movements are fluid and graceful even when the action on the screen is raucous and packed. And there are relatively very few title cards; they're used not to explain the action of the characters but to add some humor or nuance. You don't need them to explain the feelings of the characters when you've got scenes like the pocket-sewing one to delicately show what the characters' relationship is really about. The Docks of New York, despite being a traditional melodrama, has a look and feel of a movie from a later decade.

Cory recommended this. If there's a movie you'd like to see on this blog, just let me know!


cory said...

I was charmed by this film. I liked the man's confident swagger (sort of reminded me of a cross between the future John Wayne and Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast"), and I really liked the sweet chemistry between the leads. It was very polished and stylish for the late 20's, and had a great ending. A 16. Thanks for checking it out.
Oldie replacement: 1936's "Captains Courageous" with Spencer Tracy. If you have seen that then it would be "The Life of Emile Zola".

Shane said...

There you are...

Yeah, the guy reminded me of John Wayne, too. I guess that's why I was half-expecting him to start beating the girl up. (Kidding!)

Speaking of 'The Quiet Man,' my mother told me that's one of her favorite movies...

It's always hard to watch older movies and be impressed with the style and look of them because of future innovations. This is an example of one where the style really pops out at you though.