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Posted by martinteller on January 27, 2013

In the city of New York, a switchboard operator named Mary (Barbara Kent) and a punch-press operator named Jim (Glenn Tryon) both live similar but solitary existences.  They wake up in their empty apartments, hop on the crowded train, work their repetitive and mundane jobs, and return to their empty apartments.  Their colleagues and friends seem to have found romance, but neither of them has been so lucky.  Until they meet each other at a holiday celebration and hit it off.

That’s not all there is to this story, but there’s not a whole lot more.  It’s a pretty simplistic movie with a pretty simplistic romance, not dissimilar to a mix of The Crowd and the middle section of Sunrise.  The theme of loneliness even among teeming throngs of people is developed well enough, but the character development is lacking.  As a transitional film between silents and talkies, there are three awkwardly inserted dialogue scenes that add little.

However, the filmmaking technique is impressive.  Fejos uses superimpositions and innovative editing to enhance the hustle and bustle of the city and the interior lives of the protagonists.  Especially in the early sequences, it’s reminiscent of the expressionistic “city symphony” films.  Color-tinting is also employed occasionally, sometimes a bit clumsily but other times to delightful effect.  Even when the action of the narrative was rather mundane and predictable, the editing and camerawork was engaging.  The rollercoaster scene was particularly dazzling and memorable.

Like most silents, it’s a movie I respected more than I enjoyed.  The actors are likable (particularly Kent) but their characterizations are rather thin, and the romance is not especially sophisticated.  But it’s satisfying enough, thanks largely to some thoughtful and inventive technique.  Rating: Good (78)


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