The Docks of New York

The Docks of New York ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The Docks of New York is a stunning silent drama about a ship stoker (George Bancroft) who fishes a fallen dame (Betty Compson) out of the drink and makes an honest woman of her. When he wakes up sober the next morning he’s ready to move on, but fate intervenes. There are periodic lulls in the narrative during the first half and some of the comic relief is a touch tiresome, but the film delivers a half-dozen emotional hammer blows and both Bancroft and Compson are wonderful. Best of all are the sumptuous visuals: packed with shadows, fog and eye-popping tracking shots, von Sternberg ladling on the atmosphere and cranking up the latent sentiment as he elevates the slight story to something truly unforgettable. This glorious movie was surely a key thematic and pictorial influence on two of the best films of subsequent decades: Marcel Carné’s Le quai des brumes and John Ford’s The Long Voyage Home.