Friday, May 18, 2012

Unsentimental Mood

The Docks of New York (1928) - Sternberg
docks of new york
docks of new york1
Bill (George Bancroft) is a brutish stocker, shoveling coal in the boiler room of the ship. He gets one night off ashore before he ships back out. He happens to witness a blond girl (Betty Compson) plunging into the water in a suicide attempt. He rescues her and carries her to a local bar (naturally) to bring her back to life. Since she doesn't have anything to wear, he breaks in, steals some lady clothes from a nearby store. With encouragements from others, on a whim, he asks the girl to marry him. Everyone including the wedding party knows that they have no intention of keeping their bows.

The Docks showed me that not all silents are slapstick comedies, camera tricks or overacting. It's unsentimental, pessimistic and its emotions complex and subtle. Our hero and heroine are not button-cute but downtrodden and world weary. No one asks the girl why she tried to kill herself. We never get to find out. But Compson's sad smile is more telling than anything. The ending is sort of a copout but Sternberg doesn't go all the way to make it corny. Beautiful cinematography too. It's great.

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