DOCKS OF NEW YORK directed by Josef Von Sternberg (USA, 1928)
This silent movie was chosen as a compare and contrast exercise with Street Angel, which was the first movie in the syllabus for the MOOC in film history run by Scott Higgins of Wesleyan University called ‘The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color’.
The hard-hearted and cynical movie centres on an improbably eventful 24 hours in the lives of a group of sweaty stokers who take a break from the physically demanding work on ship to spend time ashore whoring and drinking.
George Bancroft is the leading man, playing Bill Reynolds, a macho guy who gets his kicks from barroom brawls and is the type to boast of having a girl in every port (his heavily tattooed arm serves as a check list of his conquests).
His ritual rabble rousing is disrupted when he saves a penniless blonde named Mae (Betty Compson) who was trying to drown herself. She makes a miraculous recovery so takes up his offer of showing her a ‘good time’ in a rowdy wharf pub.
She admires his muscles and he thinks she’s hot so before you can say ‘blistering barnacles’ the two resolve to marry in haste.
The pub’s clients see the chance of good piss up and react to the engagement enthusiastically. A stern priest comes to take the service but not before a drunken women has asked her fellow boozers: “If any of you eggs know why these heels shouldn’t get hitched, speak now or forever after, hold your trap”.
Needless to say, the subsequent ceremony is not meant as a ringing endorsement of the sanctity of marriage. The morning after Bill leaves cash on the bedside table like he was paying a hooker (although he does at least have the grace to leave a generous tip!).
Sentiment plays little part in this story so to talk of this as a ‘romance’ seems to me to be stretching it a bit. Yes , of course, he has second thoughts and jumps ship to swim ashore so that he can declare his undying devotion, but he’s such a hot-headed braggart she would have to be doubly dumb to take him at his word.
Do we believe this odd couple will live together happily ever after in a state of lawful marital bliss? Do we fuck!