The opening tells us everything. We can visualise the shipyard before we’re shown a single image. Leonard Bernstein’s horn-heavy score sounds like the song of ships. It’s almost peaceful. Then a piano strikes like military drums.
1954’s On the Waterfront is a furious, blue-collar political drama, sandwiched between A Streetcar Named Desire (also starring Marlon Brando) and East of Eden in the filmography of its director Elia Kazan. The film takes place amongst the largely Irish American community of shipyard workers in New Jersey. Manhattan can often be seen, tantalisingly, across the water, visible through prison-like iron railings, or from the rooftop where Terry Malloy (Brando) cares for a dead man’s pigeons, like a form of repentance.
The dead man is Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner), murdered by local gangsters.