A double bill of early movies directed by Josef Von Sternburg is set to spool for an in-person audience in January, and it looks particularly luscious. One picture is the director’s final extant silent movie; the second, his first using sound.
Set almost entirely in a seedy portside tavern where the doomed and desperate carouse, THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928) is director Josef Von Sternburg’s final film (The Case of Lena Smith from 1929, is lost). Film stars George Bancroft as a brutish steamship stoker whose 24-hour leave becomes a transformational journey of the soul after he rescues Betty Compson’s waif from the chilly waters and the two fall in love. That is a romantic way to meet, only awfully cold and wet for the woman.
The film is the byproduct of the leading lights of Hollywood cinema of the era. Von Sternberg orchestrates Harold Rosson’s transporting cinematography, Hans Dreier’s textured set design and Helen Lewis’ electrifying editing into an aesthetic crescendo for the silent era.
Second on this historic double-feature is THUNDERBOLT (1929), Von Sternburg’s first sound film, again starring George Bancroft, Fay Wray, Richard Arlen. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Live musical accompaniment by Cliff Retallick.
THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK/THUNDERBOLT | UCLA Film & Television Archive, Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum | January 14, in person, free with registration
THUNDERBOLT is actually a sort-of sequel to JvS’ UNDERWORLD; that picture ends with Bancroft being arrested, while this begins with him going to jail.