Von Thing After Another: Sternberg and Stroheim Silents

With this mini-season we examine the silent films of two of the all-time great directors, Erich von Stroheim and Joseph von Sternberg, including both Stroheim’s Greed and Sternberg’s seminal Underworld.

Blind Husbands

Erich von Stroheim | USA | 1919 | 91 minutes

Rarely in history has a single film catapulted a director to the forefront of world cinema, but the innovative style and sophisticated themes of Blind Husbands made Erich von Stroheim an immediate sensation, exposing the complex layers of repression, lealousy and lust that lie beneath the surface of an American couple’s marriage. Von Stroheim also stars as the officer who ensnares a married woman in a web of infidelity.

Greed

Erich von Stroheim | USA | 1924 | 239 minutes

The longest extant version of Von Stroheim’s legendary masterpiece, adapted from the naturalistic novel by McTeague by Frank Norris. The film will be shown over two screenings.

Underworld

Joseph von Sternberg| USA | 1927 | 81 minutes

Josef von Sternberg’s riveting breakthrough is widely considered the film that launched the American gangster genre as we know it. George Bancroft plays heavy Bull Weed, a criminal kingpin whose jealous devotion to his moll, Feathers, gets him into hot water with a rival hood and, ultimately, the authorities. Further complicating matters is the attraction that blossoms between Feathers and an alcoholic former lawyer.

The Last Command

Joseph von Sternberg| USA | 1928 | 88 minutes

Emil Jannings won the first best actor Academy Award for his performance as a sympathetic tyrant: an exiled Russian general turned Hollywood extra who lands a role playing a version of his former czarist self, bringing about his emotional downfall. Josef von Sternberg’s The Last Command is a brilliantly realized silent melodrama and a witty send-up of the Hollywood machine, featuring virtuoso cinematography, grandly designed sets and effects, and rousing Russian Revolution sequences. Towering above all is the passionate, heartbreaking Jannings, whose portrayal of a man losing his grip on reality is one for the history books.

The Docks of New York

Joseph von Sternberg| USA | 1928 | 75 minutes

Roughneck stoker Bill Roberts gets into all sorts of trouble during a brief shore leave when he falls hard for Mae, a wise and weary dance-hall girl, in Josef von Sternberg’s evocative portrait of lower-class waterfront folk. Fog-enshrouded cinematography,, expressionist set design by Hans Dreier and sensual performances by George Bancroft and Betty Compson make this one of Sternberg’s director’s finest works, and one of the most exquisitely crafted films of its era.