On the Waterfront (1954) Poster

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Kazan's film constitutes an extraordinary tour de force of fluid direction and nervous, edgy acting…
Nazi_Fighter_David4 May 2008
"On the Waterfront" is basically the story of one man, Terry Malloy, a young dock worker with a little, and unsuccessful, experience as a boxer but not much intelligence or purpose… He wastes his time around the docks, vaguely discontented about his life and revealing a tender trace in his otherwise tough manner as he tends his pigeons caged on the roof of his modest building…

His brother Charley (Rod Steiger), a suave opportunistic lawyer, works for the local dockers' union, headed by Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the arrogant mob boss…

Friendly takes affectionate interest in Terry and tries to make things easy for him… He also takes advantage of Terry by involving him in the killing of an uncooperative docker… Unaware of their murderous intentions, Terry sets the trap for the man who is thrown from a roof top because he allowed himself to be interviewed by a crime investigating commission…

Terry's alienation from the crooked union leaders starts when he meets the dead man's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), and realizes the grief he has brought into her life… She asks his help in bringing the racketeers to justice, as does Father Barry (Karl Malden), a priest of complete goodness and rightness…

Brando's moral dilemma was superbly drawn in the film… He's an ordinary man finding the courage to stand up and be counted… As portrayed by Brando he is touchingly believable…

The rest of the cast is excellent:

Cobb is extremely good as the brute fury boss who intimidates the workers into silence, stopping at nothing to maintain his position of power on the docks...

Rod Steiger gives his finest performance as the clever and suave opportunistic lawyer who works for the local docker's union...

Eva Marie Saint manages to make the blood go through Brando's valves reviving and creating a heart that never existed before...

Karl Malden is hard and clear as the activist Catholic priest who continue encouraging other longshoremen to testify, inciting Brando to fight for his rights—regardless of the cost—rather than be a pawn in a ruthless system of bribes and killings...

"On the Waterfront" is one of the great American films, not only because it bravely spreads a strong light on the violation of justice, but because it is a powerful piece of cinema, which push forward a classic study of man's responsibility to his fellow man...

The film won eight Academy Awards...
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A classic for all the right reasons
ExpendableMan31 March 2008
Watching On The Waterfront nowadays, two scenes stand out head and shoulders above the rest. First is the impassioned speech by Father Barry (Karl Malden) to the gathered dock workers in the hull of a ship where he tries to rally them against the mobsters running their lives. Second is the confrontation between Terry and Charlie Malloy (Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger) in the back of a taxi which ends in one brother pointing a gun at the other and Brando's now legendary "contender speech." Both of them are sequences where the characters do nothing but talk but each is a fine example of what makes On The Waterfront the undeniable classic it is; acting, scripting, cinematography, music, everything fits into one cohesive whole and the end result is a welcome addition to any film collection.

The story here concerns Terry Malloy, a New York shipyard worker who finds his conscience bothering him when one of his friends is murdered. Terry at first is a tough guy with a grim outlook ("you know my philosophy on life, give it to 'em before they give to you") who despite his inner turmoil refuses to confess anything to the Police as it would make him a "rat." However, the arrival of Malden's headstrong Preacher and the victim's innocent sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint in her debut appearance) throws his deaf and dumb world into chaos. Soon, Terry finds himself falling for Edie and the Preacher's words hit home, leaving the angry young dockworker to question what's really right. The mob meanwhile aren't too happy about Terry's UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP and begin to pile on the pressure, especially his older brother Charlie who's torn between loyalty to his boss and looking out for his younger sibling. Before anyone can put a lid on things, the dockyard becomes a very tense place to be.

Brando of course puts his heart and soul into his performance. Terry by his very nature isn't one to carry his heart on his sleeve and so the great Method Actor is left to convey his turmoil through body language alone. It is a testament to how good he is that you can tell exactly what Terry is feeling even though he hardly ever expresses it verbally. Instead his shoulders hunch with resigned indignation and his eyes spark with anger, Brando playing the part so well he more or less disappears into the character completely. While he may have taken a lot of the credit however, he is far from the only strong presence in the film as Karl Malden's rock hard Preacher is just as compelling, his depiction of the dignified man of Christ who isn't afraid to drink beer and smoke cigarettes with the Wharf rats being a refreshingly positive portrayal of a Catholic leader. Eva Marie Saint meanwhile puts in a convincing portrayal of Edie, but she is hamstrung a little by some old fashioned writing. Her pursuit of her brother's murderers give her some powerful moments but there are a couple of instances where it becomes all too clear that the part was written by a man. However, she still gives us one of the most touching moments in the film, a confrontation with Terry where most of their chat is disrupted by a tug horn that is achingly sad despite the absence of dialogue.

Acting is only one half of the equation of course and needless to say, the story remains constantly gripping. The murder that opens the film leaves an instant grip on the viewer's attention and as Terry spirals further into an intricate web of half truths, things get incredibly dark. The New York tenement blocks that tower over the proceedings provide an imposing sense of claustrophobia while the rooftops are a smoke laden jungle of chimney stacks and TV aerials. However, if you look closely it becomes apparent that the crew still had some fun with the material and there is some subtle humour to be had - a wedding party degenerating into a brawl and a bar full of panicked customers emptying into the streets followed by a shot of one isolated individual desperately jumping into the bathroom.

All in all therefore, On The Waterfront is a film that is thoroughly deserving of its reputation. Brando excels in his role and heads up a highly talented cast giving it their all. Most of all though, it's an engaging and captivating story of urban paranoia, filled with tough guys spitting out slang in barking New York accents. Think you're a big shot, do ya? Huh? Well do us all a favour and check this one out. Ah enough a youse guys, ged outta here.
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Powerful portrait of N.Y. docks , being stunningly performed and excellently directed by Elia Kazan
ma-cortes4 May 2012
This compelling and dynamic drama is set on New York's dock where mobsters control the Union and stevedores . An ex-prize fighter named Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando who deservedly won an Academy Award) turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses (Lee J Cobb) and is embroiled in violence . Malloy faces the dilemma of whether or not to turn informer . While his brother (it was originally offered to Lawrence Tierney , but he asked for too much money so the role went to Rod Steiger who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance) is a crooked lawyer and he meets a beautiful ex-nun (Eva Maria Saint , Grace Kelly turned down the role of Edie Doyle, deciding to make Rear Window instead) and falls in love for her .

This interesting and thought-provoking film contains intense drama with pungent lines , emotion , wonderful performances , memorable final , magnificent direction and classic musical score by the maestro Leonard Berstein . Marvelous acting by entire casting . The taxicab scene , one of the most famous scenes in the cinema, in which Brando began to improvise some dialogue, surprising Rod Steiger ; after a while, Elia Kazan told Brando to "knock it off". The problem Brando had with the scene, as he explained to screenwriter Budd Schulberg and Kazan, was that he felt he would have difficulty trying to talk reasonably with his brother with a gun at his ribs , at this, Kazan agreed and told Brando to improvise ,Kazan maintained that he did not direct Brando nor Steiger in this scene, he simply stood back and let the two actors direct themselves. The idea for the film began with an expose series written for The New York Sun by reporter Malcolm Johnson , the articles won him a Pulitzer Prize and were reinforced by the 1948 murder of a New York dock hiring boss which woke America to the killings, graft and extortion that were endemic on the New York waterfront. Budd Schulberg was captivated by the subject matter, devoting years of his life to absorbing everything he could about the milieu. He became a regular fixture on the waterfront, hanging out in West Side Manhattan and Long Island bars, interviewing longshore-union leaders and getting to know the outspoken priests in Hell's Kitchen. The leading characters were based on real people: Terry Malloy was based on longshoreman and whistle-blower Anthony De Vincenzo; Father Barry was based on waterfront priest John M. Corridan; Johnny Friendly was based on mobster Albert Anastasia. On the Waterfront is widely known to be an act of expiation on the part of Elia Kazan for naming names to HUAC during the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s. What is less widely reported is that Kazan intended it as a direct attack at his former close friend Arthur Miller who had been openly critical of Kazan's actions. Specifically, it was a direct response to Miller's play The Crucible.

This trend-setting film has a gritty portrait of N.Y. waterfront and stand up well nowadays and resulted to be a huge financial hit , as from a budget of just under $1 million, the film went on to gross ten times its production costs in its initial release. Film debuts of Michael V. Gazzo, Pat Hingle, Martin Balsam, and Eva Marie Saint. The last gave a debut performance that won her the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. It's a winner all the way , winning eight Academy Award , including : Best Picture , Direction (Kazan) , Cinematography (Boris Kaufman) , Art Director (Richard Day) . Rating : Very good , above average , and a real must see . Well worth watching .
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Protecting All That's Tragic
JFHunt27 September 2005
"Im just a bum sitting in a motor home on a film set, Brando said, and they come looking for ZEUS".

I think Brando was a guy who was perfect in the moment. All his power and shortcomings can be revealed in a single sentence. Other's might have been great and still more will be. But there's just something about him.

For me, Brando has always been the ultimate male. Simply put, bruiting desire. Brando represents the very definition of method acting, even though he was said to have hated the phrase. Being able to reach inside yourself and pull something out that kicks everyone in the ass. He was truly one of a kind. They say sometimes beautiful people are born under a dark cloud. I think Brando was born under a rain of thunderbolts. He was powerful and tragic.

On The Waterfront is basically a showcase for Brando. Everything coming together. This film is truly one for the ages.

I guess the only thing really wrong with this life is time.
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Powerful every time I see it
jjh65193 October 2002
Back in the early 1950's, after a movie had run its course at the theaters, it did not go to video. Nor did it go on prime-time TV, as that concept came up many years later. Instead, they put it on afternoon TV, sometimes around dinner time. Well, that's when I'd come home from high school, and got to enjoy free black and white classics such as "High Noon" and "On the Waterfront".

It made a moviefan of me for life. I remember the effect of "On the Waterfront", as I remember thinking about Terry Malloy in that final scene, "Wow, that guy's got guts! I wish I could be like him." Being just a typical Midwestern teen, I didn't know who Marlon Brando was, but I just was fascinated by this life of these good and bad people, on the tops of buildings and in the cold, wet streets and alleys of this far-away place near the waterfront.

Now, every time I watch it, years later, I still love it. Yes, there is definitely an attempt to make Terry into a Christ-figure at the end. That's no coincidence that he stumbles from having been beaten to a pulp, to walk and carry a hook on his shoulders, to lead others to a better life. (In the book by Budd Schulberg, by the way, Terry disappears after testifying and what is thought to be his body is found floating in a barrel of lime. But he has become a legend on the waterfront.) I love the powerful Elmer Bernstein score (glaring for our present tastes, but back then, exactly what people expected to hear during a drama -- you've got to wonder what a future generation will say about the constant replays of fairly irrelevant pop and rap songs as themes during most movies today, dramatic or comedy).

And being raised in a Catholic home, I found Father Barry to be a great dramatic figure, one of the only times I saw a priest portrayed as a gritty, brave, heroic person, not afraid to mix it up with the common folks in the parish. He smoked, drank and slugged it out. And he was not afraid to die for the right reason. Folks, that's true Christianity at work. And that's powerful.

A classic. A must-see. 10/10
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Magnificent statement about the power of one
blanche-26 February 2007
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke) The evil in 1954's "On the Waterfront" is the union bosses, brilliantly portrayed by Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger and their thugs. They are allowed to do business because of the fright, intimidation, and passiveness of an entire group of longshoremen, who either work or don't while the big shots take kickbacks and steal from them. Then Joey Doyle, who had agreed to testify against the union bosses, is set up by a clueless Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) and thrown off of a roof. His sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) is determined to find out what happened. But no one will talk. She shames Father Barry (Karl Malden) into taking more of an interest in what is happening on the docks, and he does. Still, no one's talking. Terry falls in love with Edie but still can't do the right thing. Another man is killed. When the killing finally affects Terry, he realizes something has to change.

"On the Waterfront" is one of the most amazing films ever made, directed by the great Elia Kazan. There were three Oscar nominations (Malden, Cobb and Steiger) in the Best Supporting Actor category, and the film took home the top acting awards, Kazan as director, and best film, best screenplay, best editing, best cinematography, best art direction. There was a nomination for Leonard Bernstein's fantastic score, and it's difficult to understand how he could have lost the award. This is the only film for which he wrote incidental music. It is fantastic, particularly in the tender moments between Terry and Edie.

"On the Waterfront" has the classic performance of Marlon Brando, a man who is loyal to his brother Charlie (Steiger) even though Charlie ruined Terry's fight career and now is part of the union corruption. Brando is sensational as a tortured young man (based on whistle-blower Anthony DiVincenzo) who knows what he should do, but the price is too high. It's his love of Edie that gives him a conscience. She's from another world and hasn't been jaded by life yet. It's impossible to believe that this role was offered to Grace Kelly, but it was. Why Kazan thought her cold beauty and finishing school accent would have fit into this scenario is beyond me. Saint is perfect - warm, strong, gentle and most importantly, comes off as the kind of girl who lives in a blue collar neighborhood.

Lee J. Cobb as Johnny Friendly (based on real-life mobster Albert Anastasia) gives a bombastic, violent, and scary performance; Karl Malden is letter-perfect as the priest who fights for Terry's soul; and Steiger is excellent as Charlie, a weak man who has taken advantage of his brother to feather his own nest. Karl Malden's character of Father Barry was based on the real-life "waterfront priest," Father John M. Corridan, who operated a Roman Catholic labor school on the west side of Manhattan. Father Corridan was interviewed by screenwriter Budd Schulberg.

The saddest thing in the film is the attitude of the young boy who helps Terry take care of Joey's pigeons. He's already been inculcated with the "D&D" (deaf and dumb) policy of the longshoremen.

The cloudy, rich atmosphere of the story is captured by the Hoboken, New Jersey locations - although this is a fictionalized version of events on the New York waterfront.

The end of "Raging Bull" is a homage to "On the Waterfront." The end of "On the Waterfront" will give you goosebumps.

Evil only triumphs when good men do nothing. When those same men stand up for what they believe in, they show evil for what it really is - cheap, lousy, and dirty.
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Still Packs A Wallop
ccthemovieman-11 February 2006
Still powerful after all these years, it's easy to see why this film won so many awards. Even though it isn't classified as "film noir," it might as well be, as it has the earmarks of one: gritty, downbeat with a feeling of dread, magnificent black-and-white cinematography, etc.

It's certainly not a "fun" movie but if you appreciate great film-making, you have to rate this near the top of the list Not only is the direction (by one of the all-time greats, Elia Kazan) superb and the photography striking, the acting also is top-rate.

Marlon Brando was just riveting to watch in here and deserved all the accolades he received for his performance. Talk about a guy with mixed emotions and a tormented soul! Eva Marie Saint, as Brando's "conscience" and love interest, proved to be worthy in her role.

The rest of the characters were angry people, always shouting it seemed, always upset at someone. Even the priest, played by Karl Malden, was that way although one of his passionate speeches was remarkable to hear. How many films does one hear about Jesus Christ being everywhere men are? None I can recall, offhand. He, like Saint's character, also influenced Brando to do the right thing.

Lee J. Cobb filled his bill as the angriest of them all, the labor boss who would have anyone killed who dare speak out against his illegal practices, and Rod Steiger was his normal intense self as Brando's older brother. Hey, almost everyone was intense in this film. It gets you involves and wears you out by the end.

Steiger and Brando's conversation in an automobile fairly late in the film ("I couda been a contenda") is one of the most famous scenes in movie history, but I found many memorable scenes in this movie....too many to recount here.

Suffice to say if you are looking for a hard-nosed drama with great acting and photography, a film that still looks and sounds up-to-date in many respects, don't be afraid to give this "oldie" a look. You'll see why it's considered one of the best movies of all time.
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A sense of dislocation
Igenlode Wordsmith14 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I queued for twenty minutes in a crowded cinema to get into this film, and was lucky to have even a sidelong seat... yet I was left in the end feeling disappointed.

The only people on the IMDb who fail to worship "On the Waterfront" appear to be those who hate its director - on 'ethical' grounds. Well, I care little enough about Elia Kazan's history or politics, yet all the same somehow I wasn't sufficiently impressed. The film features all the technical skill of Hollywood's Golden Age, supporting actors and establishing shots and, yes, innovative use of music; in many ways I'd rate it 8 out of 10. But the best film ever - the greatest star performance? That I honestly can't see, and I admit that the high expectations hurt my reaction to the result. But thinking back, I find the chief causes of my vague dissatisfaction to be twofold: Marlon Brando, and the too-convenient outcomes of the plot.

Brando I suppose I just don't 'get' - I saw him in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "One-Eyed Jacks", and missed whatever-it-was I was supposed to spot then. Where I'm concerned he holds if anything a sort of physical anti-charisma - the slouch, the mumble - and the acting that supposedly makes his contemporaries look like posturing hams, I simply don't see. And so in my ignorance, not knowing that this was held to be one of the greatest performances of the century, I was left with the impression that Marlon Brando was actually the weak link in this film.

The revelation that the character is thirty years of age comes as a real shock: he's treated and acts throughout as little more than a sulky teenager. The lack of expression may simply be skillful acting to depict the character's stunted emotional growth, but I'm afraid I found it hard to care much what happened to Brando's Terry Malloy, whereas Rod Steiger, with far briefer screen-time, brought brother Charley and his wrenching choice vividly to life. But there's nothing inherently wrong with the role of Terry, and I can't help feeling that it would have been fascinating to see what some other actor might also have made of it.

My other serious problem, unfortunately, was the way that the plot treats our heroes with kid gloves... thus undermining the whole sense of menace on which any "one man against the Mob" plot ultimately relies. Yes, the script is happy enough to bump off a minor character or two in order to emphasise the threat of Friendly's organisation, and yes, Terry does finally get beaten up. But compared to the summary justice administered to Joey Doyle or Dugan for far lighter offences, a punch-up seems pretty easy going - Terry's lucky not to fall victim to another 'accident'.

But the fact remains that up until then, our heroes have got away with open defiance. As far as the Production Code goes, Edie is evidently sacrosanct by virtue of her sex and the priest by virtue of his cloth (despite Dugan's portentous warnings, the worst the Father gets seems to be a rotten tomato). Brando is, one can only assume, preserved by being The Hero.

A highly dramatic assassination attempt amounts to no more than driving a lorry at him in the street, with no attempt to finish the job as he takes the bait and hangs around Charley's body to emote. He walks into his enemies' headquarters with no more protection than a single unaccustomed gun, and no-one even attempts to lay a finger on him... even after his own ally, equally unscathed, knocks him down! The worst repercussion he seems to face, for all the trumpeted bravery of his betrayal, is a petulant "you'll never work in this town again" - and even this is undermined by a convenient unheralded change of heart on the part of the workers who have never previously cared for him: the 'bum' who gets all the cushy jobs and now the traitor who broke the code of the docks, yet losing a fight suddenly makes him some kind of holy hero. I'm left with that feeling of manipulation: things happening or failing to happen because they meet the desired message, not because they further the emotional value of the plot.

Some aspects of the script are very well done, but I found myself with the jarring conviction that I'd just watched a film noir - and a good one, with all the skills and devices of the genre - with a tacked-on happy ending. In a great film, the plot should seem ordained, interlocking, inevitable. Here, I got the impression that the screenplay was more interested in showcasing big scenes for its star, and in an arbitrary moral, however obtained - maybe politics does come into it after all...

In many ways, the film is good; it's worth having seen. But I cannot truthfully say that I would recommend it whole-heartedly to a friend, let alone recommend him to put himself to trouble or expense to see it, as I did. That makes for a rating of 6/10. Without Brando, for my part, it would probably have been a seven.

(Edit: I was fascinated to discover by chance today that the uneasy strain between the basic story set-up and the final outcome is *not* in my imagination alone: it's the direct result of warring visions between writer and director. The character of Terry really has been 'sexed up' to provide Brando with a more significant and sympathetic role, and the apotheosis of the informer is all Kazan's idea - in Schulberg's published version, Terry winds up in an unmarked grave and Father Barry is the most important protagonist... It turns out that the dislocation that jarred me so can be traced with almost clinical exactness to this collision of two quite separate concepts of message and plot: frankly, it explains an awful lot!)
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More and more, the Rolled-out Dough will crook the Rolling Pin
Terry lives in the shadow of his smart brother Charley the Gent working for a double-handed businessman of the underworld. He had his best times of his life during his boxing career, and has brought his dimes in for his brother. Charley's boss named Johnny Friendly is the man who is behind Terry's fame, but he is also the same man who nibbled his dimes from boxing.

The curtain opens with Terry working for Johnny Friendly to be participated in a murder. He does his duty and the murder takes effect. The victim was a labor, whose labor leader also works for Johhny Friendly. Terry turns gloomy when he finds out that the victim has been only seeking his rights when he became a rebel. Especially when Terry meets with the victim's sister his suspects grew. She reasons with him that there are two opposite sides: Johnny Friendly's rich and still-growing syndicate versus the dependent and needy workers who are driven into Johnny Friendly's punitive sanctions. Provided that Terry finds a third side: His own.

A run of the mill plot of the mid-20th century. Everybody is pretty much familiar with labor union issues. Mainly the subject gives nothing more than workers seeking out their rights. However, consider that it's Elia Kazan who ushers a new era of actors who rage the whole scenes and turn out heroes out of bums. On the Waterfront has surely inspired millions. For instance, in Robert De Niro's "Raging Bull", a prize-fighter like Terry Malloy turns out to be a stage actor and affirms Terry's speech of reproach to his brother, where no other words could describe his situation he fell into.

Marlon Brando's can-do attitude created an inspirational movement, imprinting our memory, that "If Terry Malloy can do this, yes; I can do this, and yes; everybody can do this". Subsequently movie makers began to deliver efforts and accomplishments to the silver screen in order to catch viewers' appreciations. On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando are those to remember together in the motion picture history.
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Excellent performances; so-so story
sme_no_densetsu1 July 2008
Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront" is frequently listed among the greatest of all American films. It concerns a longshoreman's inner and outer struggles in exposing the corruption of union bosses.

Unquestionably, the strength of the film is the acting. Brando's performance in particular is one for the ages. He won his first Oscar for this role and Eva Marie Saint also garnered an Oscar in her introductory film role. On top of that Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb & Rod Steiger all earned Best Supporting Actor nominations. These accolades give an idea of the level of talent on display here.

Kazan's direction is well done as he strives for a gritty, realistic look. Shooting on location was an important part of that. Leonard Bernstein's score, on the other hand, is often overbearing. There's nothing wrong with the music itself, only the prominence of it.

The main area in which I feel the film doesn't quite deliver is the story. The film does a fine job of exploring the characters but I find that the underlying storyline doesn't really work for me. The main premise is a good one but after the initial confrontation I began to lose interest. The self-consciously 'inspiring' ending doesn't help, either.

All things considered, I give the film high marks for the excellent acting and direction which, unfortunately, are in service of a merely average story.
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My extended review of the film
sol-9 August 2005
My comments here are written in light of having watching the film for a second time. While I liked 'On the Waterfront' a lot the first time round, I appreciated it even more the second time. There are some slight negative points - the music is at times overbearing and the religious side it tries to bring forth does not quite work - but there is not anything significant that I would flaw the film on.

The acting is definitely the film's strongest point. Marlon Brando gives and intense and realistic performance. It is not just because of the famous car scene, or the well-known scene in the bar with Saint, that makes his performance great. It is everything that he does throughout, in particular the facial expressions that he captures on his face. Towards the end there is a scene in which he stands alone and just stares at his fellow workers. His expression is unflinching without being unrealistic. Eva Marie Saint is quite good too, also giving off a performance in which her face is central. However, there is less to talk about with her than there is about the supporting actors.

When I first viewed the film, it was Karl Malden's acting that stood out the most to me. His performance and character are powerful, however on a second viewing it seems a bit over-the-top, as does the whole religious side of the film in which he is involved. On the other hand, Lee J. Cobb is brilliant as Johnny Friendly, providing a fierce performance while not letting his character turn into a stereotype of evil. Then there is Rod Steiger, whose acting, after only one viewing of the film, I did not take much notice of. He is hardly there, and until the point when he instructed to talk with Brando, he does not have much to do. Indeed, Rod Steiger has very few good scenes in the film, however he is excellent in those scenes. It is incredibly realistic acting, the way he interacts with his brother, and the way he is torn between the mob and his family.

The next thing to mention is that this film could never be as effective in colour. The bleakness of the black and white prints is used well by Kazan. There are many shots of the characters, which just show their heads against a white sky: a bleak white sky. We cannot even see if it is cloudy or sunny day. The sky is as plain and as barren as what the future holds for each of the characters. Leonard Bernstein's music deserves a mention too. It is an electrifying score and often fits the actions very well. It is at times a tad overbearing (note the scene where Brando goes to Saint's house) as it has a tendency to over-ride the dialogue and the action. However, this does not subtract much from the overall picture.

The sound recording is very realistic. The dock noises can often be heard, which helps to set up the waterfront atmosphere, and there is one scene in which the noise of a ship plays a key element in a conversation between Saint and Brando. In that conversation it is metaphoric, and it could even be argued that it is only heard through perceptual subjectivity. The other noises are sharply recorded too, such as banging at the basement of the church. The photography is excellent, using shadows very well to set up the atmosphere, all of which is captured well with some glides and tilts.

One can praise a film for many different reasons, but it is not worth much unless one can explain what the film is about. I would say that 'On the Waterfront' is a drama about struggling against the restrictions of society, and of what it takes to stand up for what one believes in. However, I also see it as an exciting thriller about fighting corruption and the harshness of stevedore life in a community that is effectively run by gangsters. Perhaps it is about love and how relationships develop, and the events that help them to grow strong. I think different viewers will take some different out of it. And it is perhaps that, more than the artistic and cinematic qualities of the film, which makes it a great piece of cinema.
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Quite simply a classic
preppy-316 October 2003
Gripping, powerful drama of corrupt unions for dock workers and how one man Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) fights back.

This movie is a definite must-see. The story is pretty simple and has been done before but the script is superb and all the actors are at the height of their powers. Brando is unbelievable as Malloy--he portrays his innocence and hurt so easily--I actually started to get a lump in my throat when he comes to grips about the corruption. Rod Steiger is great in a small role as his brother. The taxicab sequence between him and Brando has become a legend--rightfully. Lee J. Cobb is frightening as the leader of it all. Eva Marie Saint (in her first theatrical role) is gorgeous and just great as a woman who falls in love with Brando. The scenes between them are incredible. There's also superb direction by Elia Kazan--this is possibly his best work. The only debit here is Karl Malden as the priest--he overplays it way too much and got on more nerves. But that's about it.

This movie is one of those rare instances where everything clicked together perfectly. A HUGE hit in its day. Don't miss this one!
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Hypocritical Meta-Fiction
Theo Robertson30 April 2014
ON THE WATERFRONT is considered to one of the great classics of American cinema . It's easy to see why . It's a story that involves a nobody standing up to a powerful and corrupt organisation and doing the right thing , of one man making a difference . However it's impossible to watch this once you know the background of the director Elia Kazan . A Turkish immigrant to America he started off in theater and along with Lee Strasberg introduced something called " Method acting " where the actor gets in to the psychological depths and motivation of their character and effectively becomes that character . Where as previously film stars like Clark Gable , Errol Flynn etc etc were always playing a different shade of themselves a new breed of actors in the 1950s such as James Dean and Marlon Brando brought the method acting style to cinema and the method hit new heights in the late 1960s and 70s with New Hollywood . Perhaps we should be thankful for Kazan ? Maybe but the downside was Kazan was not a nice person at all from a very important moral viewpoint

This film features a corrupt union who are fleecing the workers and lining their own pockets . The Waterfront Crime Commission are very interested in bringing down this corrupt union but they have a problem in that no one wants to talk to them and the union are more than happy to arrange accidents for suspected informers such as throwing people off roofs and fearing that former boxer Terry Molloy might snitch on them because they murdered the brother of a girl Molloy is falling in love with decide to put heavy pressure on him . You might like to consider that a couple of years previously Kazan was more than happy to testify in front of The House Of Un-American Activities and named eight former colleagues he knew from the American communist party with these eight people then being blacklisted . In effect he grassed them up and stabbed his friends in the back .With friends like that who needs enemies ? Continually this film screams that informing on " bad guys " is all that's needed for good to defeat evil and unfortunately while being a red might not necessarily make you a bad person there does seem to be some sort of moral equivalence of being a murderous gangster and someone suspected of leftist leanings . I mean it doesn't matter what someone has done because if they've done something wrong then they've only got themselves to blame if someone snitches on them isn't that right ? . A snitch is a good thing

There's also a large dose of irony . The only character with a moral compass is Father Barry played by Karl Malden . Yeah I mean a Catholic priest makes for a superlative role model . Yeah I'm sure if Father Barry found out about a paedophile ring for example he'd be round the police station right away naming names ? Or maybe not . After the death of a longshoreman who knows too much Father Barry pleads in the name of Jesus for the workers to rise up against their cruel union bosses who are taking the bread from hungry babies and using it to pay for expensive suits .Let's think about this for a tiny second . If the character of Barry wasn't a priest and just an ordinary worker , and who doesn't mention Jesus and pointed out the exploitation the workers were experiencing what sort of person would Barry be ? No doubt a good guy but one with leftist , almost certainly fundamental Marxist leanings , in which case he'd automatically be blacklisted as a filthy red . Oh it's an entirely different ball game now eh comrade ? Yet another example of Americans not getting irony . And remember - no one likes a snitch
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I could have been somebody...
jotix10014 July 2004
Elia Kazan's film is still amazing after 50 years. It's curious how it parallels Kazan's own life in the way the main character, Terry Malloy, ends up naming names to the commission investigating the corruption on the waterfront, the same way the director did in front of the HUAC committee, presided by the evil Senator Joe McCarthy and his henchman, Roy Cohn.

Bud Schulberg's screen play is his best work for the movies. It also helped that Elia Kazan had a free reign over the film, which otherwise could have gone wrong under someone else's direction.

Terry Malloy, as we see him first, is a man without a conscience. He is instrumental in ratting on a fellow longshoreman, who is killed because he knows about the criminal activities on the piers. At the same time, Terry is transformed and ultimately redeems himself because he falls in love with Edie Doyle, the sister of the man that is killed by the mob.

Terry Malloy is a complex character. His own brother Charley, is the right hand man of Johnny Friendly, the union boss. Charley is trying to save Terry. It's clear that Charley is going to be sacrificed because of the way he is acting by the same people he works with. In a way, the death of young Doyle is paid back with Charley's own, an interesting twist of events, when it should have been Terry the one that had ratted in the first place.

Marlon Brando had his best opportunity here. Everyone lavished praise for his performance. I don't know whether it was me, or what, but the way he played Terry, at times, is an enigma. Could it be the way he speaks? The taxi scene, when he speaks in his famous line, his voice sounds so out of character. Maybe it was Brando's take on the character, but in retrospect, he doesn't sound like a New York wise guy.

Eva Marie Saint, whose made her debut in the cinema in this movie, is excellent as the sweet Edie. It's incredible she stays with Terry even though he's been instrumental in the death of her own brother. She is obviously in love with Terry and will do anything for him. Karl Malden's character is also symbolic. He represents the sanity and the salvation for an otherwise horrible person, because Terry up to this point has no conscience and he is resentful for the fact he never got to be somebody when he had a chance in the boxing ring.

Lee J. Cobb, one of the great actors of the American movies gives a detailed performance as Johnny Friendly, the boss of the union local that controlled the waterfront. Rod Steiger, as the crooked brother Charley was amazing. There are a lot of minor roles such as Martin Balsam, who went to bigger and better things. Also, a non speaking Fred Gwynne who is part of Friendly's crew.

This films owes a great deal to the black and white cinematography of Boris Kaufman and to the great musical score of Leonard Bernstein. Was it me, or was this film an inspiration for the music he later composed for West Side Story?

One of the greatest films of all times.
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Great film with troubling political overtones
Mark Crego12 November 2001
There's no question that Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando are at their very best in "On the Waterfront". Kazan led a cast of solid talent in a morality play amidst the backdrop of the Depression-era New York waterfront. Brando, much calmer than in his mercurial performance in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (also directed by Kazan), personifies the best in "Method" acting, perfectly engaging the viewer with his genuineness as Terry Malloy.

In the most famous scene, Brando, a has-been prizefighter, confronts his brother (Steiger) who is about to set him up to be executed by the mob bosses of the union. When Steiger reveals his intent to set Brando up, the scene explodes with reality and pathos. Brando's words, "Wow", sum up the intensity and emotion of the scene.

Great acting and directing, however, cannot cover up the transparent political/apologetical intent of the movie. Two years earlier, Kazan had sold out his integrity to the House Unamerican Affairs Committee (HUAC), "naming names" of those who would become the blacklisted Hollywood 10. Kazan, a former communist himself, regretted his involvement with the Party, and evidently decided it was politically advantageous to name his former associates. Likewise, Brando character Malloy finds himself in a mob-run labor union, and in his effort to 'get out', repeats much of what Kazan did in real life. Worse, Kazan, through the allegorical message of the film, brands his former writers as criminals and murders, and himself as the naive innocent. Being a communist was no crime in the 30s, and he was no innocent.

"On the Waterfront" is thus steeped in a right-wing political worldview. Mobs run labor unions. Unions are thus corrupt organizations who exploit workers and make it harder for businesses to thrive. Turn in union leaders into the police. Even the church becomes a tool of the state to further the cause of the police against the union.

Brando was never satisfied with "On the Waterfront". In fact, he later commented that it was indeed a tool for Kazan to justify his actions to the HUAC. One thumb up for the acting, one thumb down for the cheap political message.
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Either it works for you ...
vram2218 June 2008
... or it doesn't. This movie is considered a classic, but it may not appeal to as broad an audience as it once did. Unfortunately, I ended being part of the group that it did not really appeal to. As ground-breaking and artful as this movie may have been, to me, most of the elements were too commonplace by today's standards to be enjoyable.

The movie is about a dockworker (Brando) who witnesses a murder of a fellow worker who was going to testify against the mob. The mob, as it turns out, runs the docking business on the waterfront. Brando's character was comfortable playing "deaf and dumb" to the murder until he meets and falls for the murdered man's sister. Add in a priest that weighs heavily on his conscience, and you can see where the movie is headed.

The ideas involving whistle-blowing, inner moral conflict and even corrupt bosses vs. innocent laborers have been pretty well played out do date ... so as powerful as they once may have been, they are not quite as effective to a modern viewer.

Brando's performance was clearly good and will forever stand the test of time. The way he moves, speaks and even communicates through his body-language is impressive. We can perceive his conflict and struggle through his mannerisms and the delivery of his words. Good as his performance was, it was not quite enough to make up for the familiarity of the plot.

Because this movie is so well respected and celebrated, the prudent thing to say is to check the movie and see what you think. My rating only reflects the fact that it's not an automatic win in everyone's book; my guess is that you'll know in the first 15 minutes if this movie is going to appeal to you.
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Not what I expected- so much more.
Kubris16 March 2012
IMDb Top 250: 105

I finished On the Waterfront about 2 hours ago, and something strange happened. Something I haven't done in a long while, I can't for certain remember the film that caused it. When the film ended, I sat in silence for about 10 minutes.

On the Waterfront is an inspiring film. There's a feeling you get watching it- movie magic. Something great is playing out in front of your eyes and you are taking in the collective effort of geniuses. Right from the start, with the dramatic score (that stays fine throughout) introducing the film, something special is happening.

The plot synopsis gives the appearance of a plain film, and plain it is not. The mob, murder and romance are the stars of this show and right off the start this is apparent- like the lighting of a fuse. Then as the wick burns down, the drama unfolds. We learn about Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), his past and present, and his conflicted thoughts. We are introduced to characters that push him down the path he has to choose. A viewer grows to care about Terry, and until he decides for himself, we have no idea what he'll do.

This film is an acting gold magnet- it received 5 nominations in acting alone. I'll start with Brando's legendary performance. It doesn't matter what you think of him offscreen because for 2 hours he is at his very best, one of the best in acting ever. Terry is a fantastic character and Brando gives an unrivalled, honest performance.

Wanting him to stand against his negative influences are Father Barry (Karl Malden) and Edie (Eva Marie Saint). The father is a frustrated man, furious in his quest for righteousness. Only in The Exorcist have I liked a priest as much. He gives a raging performance, at its peak with a scolding of the longshoremen. Riveting. With him, but quite the opposite in character is Edie, who falls into the plot. Saint aces her characters role, which is to mold Terry. Their scenes are tender, believable, and in a recurring theme with the film, honest. During their bar scene I thought they could've just made a romance together, leaving out all the drama.

On the other side, the mob union leaders, we have Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the head honcho, who is ferocious, intimidating, and impeccably evil to honest workers. There's also Charley (Rod Steiger), Terry's older brother who is comfortably in with the mob. I didn't notice him at all, except for 'the scene' which must've made him in the Academy's eyes.

Speaking of 'the scene', the pivotal Taxi cab dialogue between Terry and Charley, you can tell as it happens this is the moment, the peak of On the Waterfront and Marlon Brando. It is the turning point of the film, where Terry makes some huge realizations that we can infer from only his face and tone. I won't even discuss his words, as it's been done by absolutely everyone. There are several other great scenes, like the 'It's a crucifixion' speech and the various rooftop scenes.

Right until the last scene we aren't sure what will happen. I won't spoil it, but it's elevating. Heroic. Even enlightening.

On the Waterfront is about the small speaking out against the large and corrupt. It's about going against the flow, breaking the silence. Sometime in your life you were or will be in Terry's position to some degree, and you'll either do or don't. Leave it at that, please don't read the director's reasoning behind the film. Take it for what it is: a fantastic film that will make you want to be a better person who can speak out against wrongdoers. Powerful indeed.

I thought On the Waterfront would be good, but not this good. With stupendous performances, a top notch story and a strong message, On the Waterfront is film at it's best. 9.4/10
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The Film School Movie
Lechuguilla15 December 2008
Except for Karl Malden who overplays his role as a priest, the acting here is quite good. Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb, and Eva Marie Saint all give fine performances. And Brando is indeed terrific as Terry Malloy, the non-intellectual brick-head and former boxer who is torn between his own conscience and loyalty to a corrupt gang of bullies. His scene in the taxi with Steiger is his most famous in the film. But I actually prefer his performance in the bar, wherein he tries to console the sister of the dead man.

Apart from the acting, however, I find little of interest. The B&W cinematography, though competent, is nothing special, except for the scene where Malloy and his girl run through an alleyway; that scene is quite effective and a good example of noir lighting. Otherwise, the visuals are drab, cheerless, and dull beyond words. The low contrast lighting of the blue-collar shipyard area conveys a mood of bleakness and misery.

Most of the script's characters are humorless hoods and thugs devoid of sentiment or kindness. Everyone is angry, and they're angry through the whole story. There's not an ounce of humor anywhere. Conflict is both verbal and physical. This is a very talky script. Some of the longer scenes could pass for stage play material. I couldn't care less about the political intrigue that was the basis for the original film concept. And the film's background music is loud and overbearing.

"On The Waterfront" is one of several old movies that film school instructors like to use to show examples of high quality acting. Similarly, for a viewer to say he or she likes this movie would be "safe"; hardly anyone will force him to defend his opinion.

But times change. The movie is way outdated. Along with a number of other cinematic "sacred cows", "On The Waterfront" seems stale, bromidic, shopworn and tired. However "instructive" the film might be for new actors, I find it lacking in entertainment value.
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A Classic
Route 669 July 2004
On The Waterfront is truly a classic piece of film history, combining key elements of the standard gangster/mob film with the incredible acting of Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. The Cab scene is an incredible portrayal of Marlon Brando's amazing acting ability and the thought and feeling that separates this film from being 'just another gangster film'.

I also greatly enjoyed the rooftop scenes, as the director and actors played with the bumps and ledges in dynamic ways, with Brando looking over the lip of a roof, and people running the length of the roof, jumping up and down off the ledges and coming to a halt, eyes at another person's foot level. The rooftop added an incredible depth and intrigue to the parts of the film that were staged there, and I have never seen such well orchestrated rooftop scenes in a film.

On The Waterfront is a marvel of acting and directing that really captures the skill and power of Brando's performance. While a little slow at times, it truly is an excellent film.
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Brando's Best
daveisit3 December 2000
At the time this was probably a fairly brave subject to tackle. Unions have such a powerful history have been around for a long time with very little having changed. Corruption still appears to be at the top of the agenda whether it's the docks or the trades or any other union. It's this along with good performances that make this movie so relevant today. It's the best performance I've seen Marlon Brando give, to a role that probably suited him perfectly. He made the movie along with a good script. This wasn't enough for me to find it as one of my most enjoyed movies of all time as the AFI may have you believe.

Even if you don't like watching old movies, you should definitely make an exception for this one.
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A Rat Bastard's Lame Justification for Ruining His Friends' Lives
simpsonsfan6220 June 2006
Some movies just can't be adequately critiqued without invoking their politics. The fact that Elia Kazan made On The Waterfront in the first place makes it fair game for reviewing the film from the point of view of a political statement.

In case you aren't aware, Elia Kazan was already a renowned film director by the time he willingly went before the House Un-American Activities Committee—the Witch Hunt Committee—and ratted out his friends with whom he had attended meetings of the Communist party. He basically did this to save his own Greek behind; there is certainly no indication that Kazan at any time really had any great belief that Communists were infiltrating Hollywood and were hell-bent on destroying the American way of life: you know, buying things you don't need and dying in faraway lands to contribute to a President's inferiority over the size of his own testicles.

Having destroyed several lives with his testimony, Kazan came under attack from certain quarters for his cowardly action. His response was a film that is so highly regarded it verges on the nauseating. (I'm not even going to get into the almost campy melodrama and the hysterical acting. I know it verges on a sacrilege to suggest that Marlon Brando was ever anything but brilliant during the 1950s, but in my opinion you won't see a more affected piece of acting in any other movie released during that decade). Brando's character Terry Malloy is supposed to be a stand-in for Elia Kazan, you see, cleaning out the filth so that a bum can become a contender. Well, here's the problem: The left-leaning writers, directors and actors whose careers Kazan helped to end weren't gangster or criminals. IT HAS NEVER BEEN ILLEGAL TO BE A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY.

So the analogy doesn't fit. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: Elia Kazan is no Terry Malloy. Kazan wasn't bruised and beaten on his quest to become a hero by rooting out a criminal element. Kazan was a bum and a rat bastard who should have been strung up by his tongue instead of awarded Oscars. The fact that this piece of sludge won so many Academy Awards is itself a testament to the fact that the Communist element in Hollywood was minor at best.

Hollywood and movies are a business. They are owned and operated not to make art, but money. They exist to fulfill an Althusserian delivery of America's prevailing ideology—capitalism is the answer to all our society's ills and problems—and it would take more than ten or twenty or a hundred writers and directors to make a dent in that. Kazan did nothing to protect the minds of America from being infected by communist doctrine. (You know the kind of stuff I'm talking about: free health care, affordable higher education for everybody, higher wages for workers, and less inheritance for Paris Hilton.) It is unconscionable to reward Kazan and anyone else connected with this movie with Oscars or any other kind of award.

Look at it from this point of view: Do you think a movie that explains why Benedict Arnold betrayed his fellow countrymen would ever receive such adulation? What about a movie that explained the murder of Sharon Tate from Charles Manson's point of view? Ah, I know what you're thinking: Who's making the fallacious analogy now? Not me. Manson and his freaky buddies ended Tate's life as well as several others and threw countless other lives into disrepair. Are you aware that many of those who were blacklisted committed suicide? Then there's John Garfield who died of a heart attack at the age of 39 after battling the stress of the blacklist. And those who didn't commit suicide had their careers taken away from them for no other reason than that they attended a perfectly legal meeting years before.

I'll go further with my analogy: Elia Kazan is worse than Charles Manson. Manson was insane; he can be excused to a certain extent. Kazan didn't have to name names. He didn't have to attend the hearings at all. He knew exactly what he was doing, he did it, and then he lived the rest of life never once expressing regret. Instead, he took hundreds of thousands of dollars and made a movie to justify his own cowardly, rat-bastard actions.

Do yourself a favor. Ignore this movie when Turner Classic Movies airs it as one of their "Essentials." The only essential thing about this piece of garbage is that it's essential we all learn the lesson that being a rat bastard with an Oscar still makes you a rat bastard!
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Doesn't live up to its reputation
Chris L15 November 2014
Sure the fight against mafia gangrene, corruption, the « one against all » sympbolic are appealing subjects but the treatment the story had is too timid. The dramatic progression is rather mediocre, the narration lacks grip, tension, it is too linear, too predictable and too slow to captivate the viewer's attention from end to end. The actors are bland, a vast majority of people by the way even consider Marlon Brando's performance as one of his best when his acting is just dreadfully inexpressive. As for the cinematography, which is also often highly regarded, it's more than OK but very academic, and often badly served by a deafening, too grandiloquent soundtrack. With 8 Oscars and a solid reputation, On The Waterfront appeared like a true masterpiece but ultimately the movie could very well be part of the overrated classics category.
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I could a been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.
ali ilyas13 October 2006
This is the movie which is very close to my heart as I am very much infatuated by Brando's spotless acting and in this movie he has done some legendary work. This is one of the classics which I feel much honored to watch as this movie swiped 8 Oscars including best picture of 1954 and Brando got the golden trophy first time for best actor in leading role. The movie is about a guilty stricken ex boxer (Terry played by Brando) who is involved in the murder of a guy who's sister captivates him and then he redeems that by going against the underworld boss (Johnny by Lee J Cobb) and by doing that he lost his beloved brother Charley (Rod Steiger). This is a highly classed drama in which human emotions are that there very best and some finest work by the entire cast as Eva Marie Saint also got her Oscar for supporting actress in her very first movie.Elia Kazan's direction was also very gripping. This movie is one of the finest produce by Hollywood ever.
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Brando's Best (which says a lot)
jerk14835 April 2002
Terry Maloy is by far the best performance of Marlon Brando's career. Better than Vito, better than Stanley, and sure as hell better than Guys and Dolls. Brando's performance in this film, in my opinion, is the greatest acting I've ever seen. The scene in the car with Charlie ("I coulda been a contend-uh, I coulda had class") is the most famous. My favorite moment, though, is the first moment when you realize how conflicted Terry is in the first scene. He is right in the thick of a mob meeting and watching him shows exactly how an actor should do his job. His character is made totally believable.

The film on its own is brilliant. Without Brando, On the Waterfront would be a great film with a good cast. With Brando, Waterfront is a great film with the perfect cast.
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