Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#413: The Docks of New York

1927, TSPDT Rank #784

This is the first film of the Josef von Sternberg marathon that I will be having, continuing throughout the next few days, in which I will be watching and commenting on the six Sternberg films I have yet to watch of the eight on the list (the two I've seen are Morocco and Shanghai Express).

The Docks of New York is a film from the end of the silent era, which unfortunately ended as silent films were reaching a new level of sophistication and beauty. This film feels somewhat like a lesser Sunrise (the F.W. Murnau masterpiece from the previous year), as it contains much of the same themes and visual feel of that film. However, while the foggy expressionist visual style is impressive and the theme of working-class people trying to form and subsequently mend a meaningful relationship is potent, I think that the strong emotional potential isn't tapped all that well until the last act of the film. The last act is great indeed, but what comes before felt too mediocre and not very meaningful to what comes later. It is still a very good film, just not as balanced or effective as it could have been. I had similar issues with Sternberg's previous film, The Last Command (not on the list), but not with his other 1927 film, Underworld (also not on the list), which I thought was a fantastic and groundbreaking early gangster film, and would give a very high recommendation. Luckily, the Criterion Collection has packaged all three of these silent films by Sternberg into a DVD box set, and they're all worth seeing despite what your personal preferences from film to film might be. Josef von Sternberg was definitely proving himself an important and interesting director, even in these years prior to the rather famous partnership he found himself in at the dawn of the sound era, which would permanently cement his name in cinematic history forever.

(Rating: 7/10)

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