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On the Waterfront

Classics and Drama movie directed by Elia Kazan

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More Than a "Contender"

  • Jul 7, 2003
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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More On the Waterfront reviews
review by . March 19, 2006
Ask anyone what pops into their head when you mention ON THE WATERFRONT. Chances are it's the classic line "I coulda been a contender", delivered by Marlon Brando is one of his finest performances. Brando plays tough guy Terry Malloy, a boxer-turned-longshoreman working for a group of corrupt union bosses. He's content working on the docks day in and day out, never putting any thought into his life. Then he meets Edie Doyle (played by Eva Marie Saint), a young girl trying to find the person(s) responsible …
review by . March 03, 2003
On the Waterfront neatly captures its historical and political context of mob corruption on the New Jersey waterfront, its screenplay is tight and lucid, and of course Marlon Brando's performance is truly electric (comparing favourably, in my view, with his highly over-rated contemporary James Dean - Brando can only have missed out on equivalent icon status by not having the foresight to plough his car into the back of a truck). The deftness of touch with which Brando has his knuckle-headed ex-boxer …
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Robert Morris ()
Ranked #169
Professionally, I am an independent management consultant who specializes in accelerated executive development and breakthrough high-impact organizational performance. I also review mostly business books … more
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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 how flat-out thrilling it is. For all its great dramatic and cinematic qualities, and its fiery social criticism, Elia Kazan'sOn the Waterfrontis also one of the most gripping melodramas of political corruption and individual heroism ever made in the United States, a five-star gut-grabber. Shot on location around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, in the mid-1950s, it tells the fact-based story of a longshoreman (Brando's Terry Malloy) who is blackballed and savagely beaten for informing against the mobsters who have taken over his union and sold it out to the bosses. (Karl Malden has a more conventional stalwart-hero role, as an idealistic priest who nurtures Terry's pangs of conscience.) Lee J. Cobb, who created the role of Willy Loman inDeath of Salesmanunder Kazan's direction on Broadway, makes a formidable foe as a greedy union leader.--David Chute
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