The Docks of New York (1928) Director: Josef Von Sternberg
The Docks of New York is one of Von Sternberg’s three silent classics. The story for the film is based on a story called “The Dock Walloper” -written by American author and screenwriter, John Monk Saunders. It was Von Sternberg’s third masterpiece following his 1927 film, Underworld and his 1928 film, The Last Command, though The Docks of New York did poorly at the box office. It was passed over for Al Jolson’s The Singing Fool and other popular films of the era.
There is a quality of beauty that is unparalleled in early Von Sternberg films, in part taken from shadowy German expressionist themes and in part showcasing tragically fallen women (particularly his notable collaborations with Marlene Dietrich). The Docks of New York is one of his three brilliant silent films.
A steamer arrives in New York. One of the engineers, Andy, visits a bar where perchance he finds his estranged wife, Lou. In their three years apart, she has become an entertainer and female escort to the men of New York. Meanwhile another man, Bill, a tough guy from the ship rescues a prostitute, Mae, attempting to drown herself. They fall in love and are married in the bar by a missionary. The next morning, an event occurs that results in death. Bill flees from his new wife. The engineer, Andy, is killed by his estranged wife for forcing himself upon the recently married prostitute. Mae, the prostitute, is then blamed for the murder until Bill, who has returned to the boat, has a last minute change of heart. He swims to shore and they reunite. He takes the blame for the crime and they pledge to reunite after his sixty day punishment. Thus, there is a kind of redemption, even among the dark underclass of New York.
The film stars George Bancroft, who also appeared in Von Sternberg’s 1927 Underworld. He also later appeared in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town in 1936 and Stagecoach in 1939, among other films.