Martin Ritt's first film offers an exceptional existentialist answer (three years later) to Elia Kazan's more conservative "On The Waterfront." While "Waterfront" benefited immensely from an electrifying Marlon Brando, who inadvertently disguised Kazan's offensive theme of trying to justify naming names (as Kazan did eagerly before the House Un-American Activities Committee), "Edge of the City" boasts a young John Cassavetes and an upstart Sidney Poitier daring to confront issues that "Waterfront" failed to acknowledge, namely, workers' rights and race relations.
"Edge of the City" boldly dives into this (then) unknown territory, and although the quite appealing black protagonist (Poitier) may seem a bit Hollywood simplistic, the courageous struggle against thinly-veiled bigotry and violence has hardly aged at all. One wonders how shocked initial 1957 moviegoers were at such a bold presentation of white-black relations (if some of the bigoted didn't leave the theater early, they must of left dumbfounded, if not offended).
The last reel of the film will still surprise audiences, as it refuses to sink into expected clichés, including those that tainted "Waterfront." While both films climax with a fight in front of stunned workers, director Ritt avoids the tiddy simplicity of Kazan's ratonalizied ending. Only the most jaded viewers will not realize "Edge" remains such a radical and entertaining film.
What's most disturbing about this lost classic: how it sadly stayed unavailable on any format, for reasons that remain quite cloudy until it surfaced in a Sidney Poitier compilation in late 2008. This film should be required viewing in high school or college history classes across the country, yet one can only find it on obscure late-night TV, if ever at all.
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