On the Waterfront (1954) Poster

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10/10
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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9/10
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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8/10
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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10/10
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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10/10
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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10/10
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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10/10
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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8/10
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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6/10
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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