The Docks of New York

Released:  1928

Cast:  George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova

SUMMARY:  Bill Roberts (George Bancroft) is a ship stoker who has just received one night’s shore leave before heading out again the next day.  Upon docking, he immediately heads into town, as do his friend “Sugar” Steve and boss Andy.  Andy heads for the local bar and picks up a girl, only to see his wife in the same bar, dancing with another man.  Lou (Olga Baclanova) has not seen Andy for three years, and the relationship is less than cordial.  Meanwhile, Bill is also heading towards the bar when he sees a girl jump into the water.  He jumps in and saves her, then carries her to the bar, which has rooms behind it.  The bar owner is against bringing the girl in, as she is a known prostitute, but Bill insists, and Lou helps.  Lou is able to revive the girl, Mae (Betty Compson); when he learns that she had nothing other than the clothes on her back, Bill goes to a pawn shop to get some for her.  The shop is closed, so Bill breaks in to get the clothes.  After she recovers from her suicide attempt, Bill persuades Mae to join him in the bar.  They learn that neither of them have had much luck in relationships, but having taken a shine to each other, they decide to get married that very evening, in the bar.

The next morning, Bill prepares to leave with the ship while Mae sleeps.  After he leaves the room, Andy sneaks in and tries to take advantage of Mae; Lou has followed him, and also enters the room.  A gunshot is then heard, summoning the police, and a crowd begins to assemble outside the room.  Bill is still headed toward the dock, but is delayed by the crowd.  When the police arrive and find that Andy has been shot, they try to arrest Mae, as she is the only other one in the room.  Bill tries to vouch for her, but it is Lou who comes to the rescue, admitting that she was the one who shot Andy.  Bill and Mae go back in the room for a minute, and Bill explains that he has to be on the ship in less than an hour.  Somewhat regretfully, he tells her that the marriage would never work, because he is at sea too much.  Mae starts to cry, but then she turns angry, to the bemusement of Bill and Sugar Steve, who has come to retrieve him.  They resume their stoking jobs as the ship heads out to sea, but Bill has second thoughts.  He jumps over the side and swims back to shore, then goes looking for his wife.  He learns that she has been arrested:  when he gets to the courtroom he learns that she is charged with the theft of the clothes from the pawn shop.  Just as he enters Mae is sentenced to thirty days, but Bill barges in and announces that he was the one to steal the clothes.  The judge then sentences Bill to sixty days in jail.  As he is taken out, Bill promises Mae that this will be his last “cruise,” if she wants to wait for him:  she replies that she will wait as long as it takes.

MY TAKE:  I know I’m a pessimist, because while I appreciate the happy ending of this film, I found myself thinking that it was pretty improbable.  Basically, I have trouble believing that people can change so dramatically all at once.  Whatever the reasons Mae got into prostitution, she had to have become rather hardened to life, and to men.  As such, it’s hard for me to believe that she trusted Bill so quickly, let alone marry him and then agree to wait for two months while he’s in jail.  I have the same issue with Bill:  he’s obviously used to a free-wheeling lifestyle and no commitments, so believing that one night of shore leave could change all that is difficult.  Not saying that it couldn’t happen, but like Pretty Woman, it seems like a rather rosy view of life to me.  I did enjoy the movie, as it’s pretty short (things don’t drag or get boring), and with the exception of Lou, the characters don’t overact in that silent movie way.  Lou doesn’t do it very often, but once in a while she opens her eyes really wide and waves her upper body around; given the amount of eye makeup she has on, this has kind of a scary effect.  I did get a kick out of the scene where Mae is fixing Bill’s coat before he leaves with Sugar Steve:  their reaction to her rapid mood change is hilarious.  Weirdly, one of my biggest issues with this film was the subtitles:  on several occasions, somebody says something like “could have”, “should have”, etc.  The way I just wrote it is the correct way, but the subtitles, at least in the version I watched, always read “could of”, etc.  This is grammatically incorrect and just doesn’t make sense, and unfortunately I’m one of those grammar-crazy people.  Hire a proofreader, people!

RATING:  Entertaining, if not terribly realistic.

 

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