Just watched this film and I'm not sure what to think. There was a sliver of biography preceding the film that talked about George K. Arthur approaching Josef von Sternberg with $6,000 to make a film. They assembled a cast of "unknowns" that included Georgia Hale, Otto Matieson, Bruce Guerin, Nellie Bly Baker.
Von Sternberg fashioned a story about life with the harbor dredge acting as a symbol of life's futility as it gouges up harbor mud even as the shore crumbles back into the sea.
The Boy, The Girl and The Child leave the harbor and go to the city where they are immediately set upon by The Man who tries to press The Girl into prostitution. He already has The Woman in another room, seemingly a prisoner.
After a failed tryst, The Man thinks that maybe a trip to the country will make The Girl more pliable but he has to take everyone along. They stop at a development site that boasts something like DREAMS ARE MADE HERE. When The Child gets in the way of The Man's advances, he starts beating the kid so that The Boy comes to his rescue, finds his own manhood, and trounces the cad. The three walk away into the sunset and "to the sun."
So the whole films acts as a metaphor of man coming out of the primordial ooze with the ultimate goal of going "to the sun."
Not very arty for a von Sternberg film, especially the grimy San Pedro harbor scenes, and despite a few nice close-ups of Georgia Hale, this almost has the look and feel of a documentary but with pretensions.
The bio tells us that Chaplin saw this (Nellie Bly Baker had been his secretary and had appeared in a few of his films) and was impressed. He brought it to Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford who loved it and distributed the film through UA, thus making von Sternberg's career in America.
The question remains: exactly what did these 3 giants see in this film?
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