This masterpiece by Josef von Sternberg belongs to the last years of silent cinema (1928), the period in which the form, facing extinction, achieved perfection. There's no waste, no excess, in Sternberg's production: the melodramatic plot (a ship's stoker rescues a girl from suicide, marries her, and takes the rap for a minor crime she is accused of) is so familiar and so desultorily presented that it's barely perceptible, and the acting is minimal, confined to ritual gestures endlessly repeated. Sternberg suppresses direct emotional appeal to concentrate on something infinitely fine: a series of minute, discrete moral discoveries and philosophical realignments among his characters. With George Bancroft, Betty Compson, and Olga Baclanova.
By Dave Kehr