Josef von Sternberg is perhaps most popularly remembered for his films with Marlene Dietrich and his “painterly” approach to directing, but even his earliest works had a lot more going for them than a star performance or impressive visual style. Silent films Underworld (1927), The Last Command (1928), and The Docks of New York (1928) are masterpieces of visual storytelling—human dramas expressed with cinematographic innovation, impeccably realized set design, and an unparalleled grasp of the “bigger picture” of the motion picture. 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg, Criterion Collection’s deluxe release, rescues these three films from being lost to history and reverently, generously revives them for DVD.
Perhaps the most welcome additions to this release are Robert Israel’s brilliant symphonic scores for all of the films. Although the discs also include inventive scores by Alloy Orchestra (Underworld and The Last Command) and Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton (The Docks of New York), none of them matches the subtlety and emotion of Israel’s work. His own brand of musical storytelling is a perfect fit for von Sternberg’s silent masterpieces.