92. “The Docks of New York”, Josef von Sternberg (1928)

Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.


The Docks of New York

dir. Josef von Sternberg (1928) scr. Jules Furthman, based on The Dock Walloper by John Monk Saunders cin. Harold Rosson with George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova, Mitchell Lewis

In 100 words: On purely stylistic grounds, Docks more than earns its spot on this list for its genius framing of characters, its unparalleled use of light, shadows and mist, and its set decoration, lending a mythic quality to the waterfronts of New York. But what makes the film truly great is that within its exquisite skin is a common love story told with unabashed romanticism in the face of extensive forces keeping the couple apart: von Sternberg’s deliberate pacing allows the audience to soak in the love affair, while his expressionistic images unveil psychology. Compson’s breathtaking performance is the cherry on top.

Other Movies for Context: Josef von Sternberg is known primarily for being an exquisite stylist and his films are some of the most extraordinarily gorgeous films I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’m personally looking forward to watching The Blue Angel (1930) and Morocco (1930), but the other two I’ve seen are stunning: Shanghai Express (1932), which features Marlene Dietrich’s most iconic shot and the legendary Asian-American badass Anna May Wong, and The Scarlet Empress (1934), which may be his most grand and lavish film, but the history nerd in me is offended by its comically hilarious historical inaccuracies.

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