On the Waterfront (1954)

On the Waterfront (1954)
  • Time: 108 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama
  • Director: Elia Kazan
  • Cast: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb


Terry Malloy dreams about being a prize fighter, while tending his pigeons and running errands at the docks for Johnny Friendly, the corrupt boss of the dockers union. Terry witnesses a murder by two of Johnny’s thugs, and later meets the dead man’s sister and feels responsible for his death. She introduces him to Father Barry, who tries to force him to provide information for the courts that will smash the dock racketeers.

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  • From the first scene, it is easy to see that he is caught in the middle of a difficult situation. Terry Malloy has joined the corruption that plagues his workplace; the docks of New York. Each day as he stands in the group of men wanting to work that day on the waterfront, he is falling victim to the corrupt bosses running the docks. As his brother is a member of the head boss’ inner circle, Terry is caught in this situation. He has helped in the murder of a man who knew too much, and he didn’t want it to be this way. Unlike his brother, Terry’s moral compass is better calibrated, and he soon decides that he needs to end the exploitation of the workers on the waterfront. While on his journey, he meets Edie; the sister of the man that Terry helped kill. From his first glance, he has loved her; however, Edie is unaware of his dark past at first, and once she finds out, she stands right alongside Terry. Finally mustering up the courage, Terry engages the bosses face-to-face.

    My Thoughts
    In almost every list or countdown of the best performances by an actor in a movie, the performance of Terry Malloy by Marlon Brando is at or near the top. Why is that? If you watch this film, you won’t see any huge, overly-dramatic scenes. What you will see is professional actors that don’t need huge shouting matches or dramatic soliloquies in order to make their character’s emotions felt. Brando delivers a subtlety to his role that takes his performance to that stature that it’s at. Even in the famous “I could have been a contender” scene, it’s Brando’s and Steiger’s understated expressions and body language that take us deeper into the situation and emotions felt in the taxi.
    This film is a great representation of how it takes one courageous individual in order to topple corruption or injustice. Although he is relatively quiet, Terry is the one man brave enough to take a stand against Johnny Friendly and his bosses. Throughout the story, we see numerous people killed by prearranged “accidents” intended to shut up a witness willing to testify against the bosses, and Terry sees these events as well. Once the final straw is pulled, Terry can’t take it anymore.
    In the supporting cast around Brando are some great performances. Lee J. Cobb is fantastic as the malevolent Johnny Friendly, Rod Steiger plays a small (yet important) role as Terry’s brother Charlie, and Eva Marie Saint is magnificent as Edie. One “fun fact” that makes the actress’ performance even more impressive is that this was her very first film appearance.
    On Oscar night, this film was given an impressive 12 nominations, and it came away with 8 golden statuettes for the following awards: Picture, Leading Actor for Brando, Supporting Actress for Saint, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Set Decoration, and Film Editing.

    Score: 9/10
    Comments: Although somewhat slow at times, this is a great film to see, and I would recommend this to anyone interested in cinematic history or who wants to see acting at its pinnacle.

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