Wednesday, April 20, 2011

39. The Docks of New York (1928)

Running Time: 75 minutes
Directed By: Josef von Sternberg
Written By: Jules Furthman, from the story The Dock Walloper by John Monk Saunders
Main Cast: George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova, Clyde Cook, Mitchell Lewis

SLIDING BACK INTO THE SILENT ERA

In a perfect world, I would have watched "The Docks of New York" back in October of 2009, when I was still going in chronological order. However, it wasn't available on DVD at the time and it wasn't until recently that the good folks over at Criterion released a silent set commemorating Josef von Sternberg, that included this film.

Bill Roberts (Bancroft) is a stoker (those guys that shovel the coal into the furnace of a steam engine) on a ship and as our tale begins his ship is docking. Bill is a rough and tough type, with tattoos of ladies names and naked ladies on his arms and a guy who likes to knock back a few cold ones when he's not shoveling coal. When Bill's boat docks and he begins to depart, he spots a lady who has thrown herself into the water. Bill jumps in after her, saves her life and then takes her to the local saloon, to be treated. She is eventually revived and Bill takes an immediate liking to her, even stealing her a handful of fancy new "duds". The newly introduced couple make their way to the bar and have a good time getting to no one another. Bill and Mae (Compson) flirt with the idea of getting married and what starts out as a joke, ends with the retrieving of "Hymn Book" Harry, the local minister and a couple of "I Do's".

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

I gotta' say it was great seeing a silent film again. I haven't seen any silent cinema since I watched my last one for the "1001..." book and even though it wasn't that long ago, watching this one brought back memories of Keaton, Chaplin, "La Roue" and "Greed". It's just too bad that "The Docks of New York" wasn't even half as good as some of the previously mentioned titles. I just couldn't get into this one, at all. It was nice finally seeing George Bancroft in the leading role of a silent picture, but I wasn't crazy about him. On the plus side, I did like Betty Compson, as she added a ray of sunshine to the whole production and made a good "baby" to Bancroft's Bill. To me, this film was much too predictable. I saw the fairy tale ending coming from a mile away and while I appreciate the little twist with the stolen clothes, it still wound up being pretty much the ending that I had pegged.

The way I see it, "The Docks of New York" needed to have just a little bit more tragedy involved. I mean, here you got these two down on their luck characters and fate throws them into each others arms. However, I really never felt any pity for the characters and for my money, when you have characters like this, you kind of have to let the audience feel sympathy for them. Never once did I say anything to the effect of "Man, that Bill - he acts tough, but he's hurtin'." There was never any reason for Bill to go back and reclaim Mae, because he was a loner all of his life and he was going to keep being a loner and for me, the money ending would have been the more tragic one, where Bill stays aboard the ship and the two spend the rest of their life wondering, what it would have been like if things had worked out.

RATING: 4.5/10 That was a lot of grumbling and ranting, sorry. Anyway, it gets some points for some catchy scenes and Betty Compson, but all in all I can't even get it to that average marker.

MOVIES WATCHED: 259
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 742

April 20, 2011 2:26am

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