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On the Waterfront

9 Ratings: 4.1
Classics and Drama movie directed by Elia Kazan

Marlon Brando's famous "I coulda been a contenda" speech is such a warhorse by now that a lot of people probably feel they've seen this picture already, even if they haven't. And many of those who have seen it may have forgotten … see full wiki

Director: Elia Kazan
Genre: Drama
Release Date: October 1, 1954
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about On the Waterfront

More Than a "Contender"

  • Jul 7, 2003
Rating:
+5
Most of the various lists of all-time greatest films include this one because it offers a rare combination of superior talent in all areas of production: directed by Elia Kazan...edited by Gene Milford...starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, and Lee J. Cobb...art direction by Richard Day...a screenplay written by Budd Schulberg based on Malcolm Johnson's novel...musical score composed by Leonard Bernstein...with cinematography provided by Boris Kaufman. Producer San Spiegel accepted the Academy Away for best picture. Brando, Day, Kaufman, Kazan, Milford, Schulberg, and Saint also received Academy Awards; Bernstein, Cobb, Malden, and Steiger were nominated. As I viewed it again recently, I was curious to learn how well it has held up since it was released in 1954. It holds up very well indeed.

My favorite scenes still have the same impact, most of them involving a conversation: when Malloy teases Edie in the mini-park, when Glover and Gillette engage him on the roof as he tends to his pigeons, the scene in the cab with his brother Charley...also when finds he finds his brother hoisted up on a wall, the scene in the barroom as he awaits Johnny Friendly's arrival, and of course as the film concludes when he somehow gets up and drags himself into the warehouse, followed by the other longshoremen. The integration of dialogue, action, and setting with music in these and other scenes is exquisite. All of the acting is outstanding. In fact, I cannot think of a single weakness throughout the entire production. Yes, that was Pat Hingle playing a bartender, Nehemiah Persoff driving the cab, and Martin Balsam as Gillette. And yes, that was Tony ("Two Ton") Galento playing Truck, one of Friendly's several thugs. There are so many other character actors with familiar faces who never achieved any celebrity but without whom this film could not have achieved its greatness. They include Pat Henning ("Kayo" Dugan), John Hamilton ("Pop" Doyle), and Barry Macollum ("J.P."). They deserve to have their names mentioned.

We know now that there was serious and substantial opposition to making On the Waterfront because of the film industry's close ties with organized crime. We also know that the House Un-American Activities Committee was initially much more interested in Communist infiltration of labor unions than it was in any corruption by various mob "families" in the metropolitan New York York area. Nonetheless, the film was finally made. It has lost nothing during the past 50 years and I expect that also to be true for decades to come.

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