The Docks of New York
Roughneck stoker Bill Roberts (George Bancroft) gets into all sorts of trouble during a brief shore leave when he falls hard for Mae (Betty Compson), a wise and weary dance-hall girl, in Josef von Sternberg’s evocative portrait of working-class waterfront folk. Fog-enshrouded cinematography by Harold Rosson, expressionist set design by Hans Dreier, and sensual performances by Bancroft and Compson make this one of the legendary director’s finest works, and one of the most exquisitely crafted films of its era.
The third and final dual-layer disc in Criterion’s Blu-ray upgrade of their 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg box set presents The Docks of New York in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. This edition reuses the same high-definition restoration used for the previous DVD edition, and was scanned from a 35mm fine-grain positive.
This was the strongest looking presentation in the old DVD set and that holds true here as well. In fact, of all of the films in this Blu-ray box set The Docks of New York is the one that translates the best over to the high-definition format. Ignoring a handful of softer looking shots this proves to be the sharpest, most highly detailed presentation of the films. Depth looks great and textures within the film look natural. At times you can even make out the pores on the faces of the actors, along with stray strands of hair.
Damage is less frequent compared to what appears in the other two films but there are still spots where damage gets incredibly heavy, with large scratches that just obliterate the screen at times. Grain is there and it looks good enough, but it can get a bit noisy and isn’t as clean as it probably could be. But I didn’t detect any other anomalies; smoky sequences look fine (no noise or banding present) and shadows are rendered beautifully. Grayscale is excellent and black levels are deep.
Like the other films it looks pretty good, and it’s probably the best looking presentation of all three films, but like the other films it could still be better, at least with the aid of newer scan.
Criterion carries over the two orchestral scores found on the original DVD edition: one composed by Robert Israel, commissioned for their original DVD edition, and then a 2008 score created by Donald Sosin for the Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna, Italy, with vocals inserted by Joanna Seaton. Both tracks are presented in lossless PCM 2.0 stereo. Again it will come down to preference, with me probably still preferring the Israel score, but at the very least both are dynamic and clean, free of noise and distortion.
The DVD box set only had a handful of supplements spread out over the 3 discs, though I was pleased with the material. The Blu-ray set appears to carry everything over.
Like the other films The Docks of New York only comes with one significant supplement: a rather wonderful interview with Josef von Sternberg, recorded in Sweden in 1969. Running 40-minutes, and presented in a mix of Swedish and English (with optional English subtitles for the Swedish spoken,) it’s a fairly candid interview as the director talks about his early silent work and his later work with Marlene Dietrich, though the latter to a small degree. It focuses on a few of his films, primarily The Salvation Hunters, Underworld, the unfinished I, Claudius, and even Anatahan (it even has clips from all of the films, including a finished sequence from I, Claudius). But the interview gets especially good when they start looking at the Swedish posters for his early films with the director recalling the films and the actors he worked with. And similar to a feature found on Criterion’s original DVD edition of The Scarlet Empress (and a feature in Indicator’s von Sternberg/Dietrich set), von Sternberg then gives a demonstration of his lighting technique. It’s short and sadly the only feature here but it’s a really good one.
It only has one feature but it’s another strong one, a solid interview with von Sternberg on his early work. But the selling point is the presentation, which is the best looking one in the set, managing to show a more obvious upgrade over its DVD counterpart.