The Docks of New York (1928)

docks of new york poster 1928 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking, different story

Pretty typical of the genre

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Docks of New York

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Silent/Drama

Release Date(s):  September 15, 1928 (Premiere)/September 29, 1928 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

docks of new york mitchell lewis olga baclanova

I kind of hate you, lady

The docks of New York see people coming and going in all hours of the night.  Shipman Bill Roberts (George Bancroft) and his superior Andy (Mitchell Lewis) have shore leave and spend a night drinking at the local watering hole.  As Andy finds his faithful wife Lou (Olga Baclanova) is less than faithful, Bill saves a drowning prostitute named Mae (Betty Compson) from the water.  Time is fleeting on the docks of New York, and when lives intertwine, it doesn’t always mean that the bonds were built to last.

Directed by Josef von Sternberg, The Docks of New York is a silent black-and-white picture.  The movie is an adaption of “The Dock Walloper” by John Monk Saunders.  The movie was released to critical acclaim and the film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 1999.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #531) as part of the 3 Silent Classics by Josef Von Sternberg boxset (Criterion #528).

docks of new york wedding bill mae george bancroft betty compson

Sure…why not…I’ll take her

I didn’t know anything about Josef Von Sternberg or his style going into The Docks of New York so I didn’t know what to expect.  The movie has some typical aspects of silent pictures, but it is raised above most pictures in presentation and story.

The movie follows two relationships.  The secondary relationship is the third engineer Andy and his wife Lou.  They are bitter and jaded.  They don’t respect their marriage, and they don’t trust each other (rightfully so).  The primary relationship is between Bill and Mae.  They start out jaded and bitter but find a peace between them that develops into love.  While Lou and Andy won’t work out, there is a sense of hope at the end of the film that Bill and Mae might be different enough to see it through.

The cast is decent, but silent film acting is always a challenge to find a balance between overacting to convey the emotion without a voice and trying to keep the acting reigned in to keep the overacting toned down.  The core cast is good in their roles and meet the balance challenge.

docks of new york george bancroft betty compson

Will we make it?

The movie looks great.  It has a noir style that is in general intrinsic to the silent movie set at night, but it still is stylish and cleaner than a lot of movies from the same period.  The newer transfers of the film are quite clear and worth seeking out since many films from the period can be rough or ragged…this film is so clear that you can often read the lips of the characters for dialogue before it appears on the screen (or if it appears).

The Docks of New York doesn’t have any surprising or revolutionary twists to the silent film, but it is a great example of the time.  The look and quality of the movie makes it worth seeking out and the fact that the relationships in the movie aren’t as cut and dry as some films make it more palpable than most.  Visit the docks if you are looking for a silent picture you might have missed.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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