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 for her brother's death. Soon Terry finds himself falling in love with Edie - and developing a conscience. In the hardest decision of his life, Terry decides to help the local law enforcement oust the dock's Mob-run union; as with many decisions, this has consequences.
ON THE WATERFRONT is fueled largely by Marlon Brando's extraodinary performance as conscience-stricken Terry Malloy, but the film has a lot more going for it than just that. For one, there's the top-notch performances of Karl Malden as the priest who guides Terry, Eva Marie Saint as the girl who makes Terry realize what's happening around him, and Lee J. Cobb as the despicable head of the union. Then there's the directing of Elia Kazan, who manages to get the very finest performances from each and every member of the cast. There's also an outstanding score by Leonard Bernstein and a powerful script by Budd Schulberg.
ON THE WATERFRONT is every bit as grand today as it was in 1954. Brando's performance continues to draw cheers from moviegoers, while some moments continue to draw tears from moviegoers ("It was you, Charley."). Elia Kazan crafted a masterpiece that still ranks highly amongst the greatest films ever made.
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 … more
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 … more
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