← Back to Reviews

On the Waterfront

On The Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)
Director: Elia Kazan
Writers: Budd Schulberg(screenplay & original story)
Cast: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Terry Malloy, "You don't understand. I could've had class. I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody instead of a bum, which I am."
I watched the DVD extras before watching the movie. Several times they showed that taxi cab clip, and talked about how dynamic it was. Kazan himself was in awe of what Brando and Steiger did in that scene. It's considered one of the important scenes of cinema and the quote above, is one of the most quoted movies lines.

When I finally watched the movie...I was deeply moved by that scene. Even thinking about it as I type, makes me feel Brando's remorse. It's a helluva scene.

Needless to say I'm duly impressed by On The Waterfront! Brando almost always knocks it out of the ballpark, but here he's sanctified.

He's the embodiment of Kazan's theory on characters, 'that every protagonist should have a dark side, and every antagonist, a soft spot'. And Brando does, he's both sensitive & gentle...and violent & powerful. Brando makes this film!

Father Barry is the crux to the story, it's him who turns the tide by his impassioned speech about the evils of looking the other way as wrong is done in the world. Strong stuff, he is Kazan speaking to the audience. Father Barry's part is well written. But I couldn't help but seeing Karl Malden instead of the priest. In Streetcar I bought that he was his character, but here I didn't. I liked the character, but didn't like Malden in it.

Eva Marie Saint, I thought she was real and believable. I read that Grace Kelly had been asked to do the role but declined in favor of doing Rear Window. Thank Goodness!

Rod Steiger was a power house and one of my favorite actors, Lee J. Cobb really made this a memorable film. All around a fine cast.

You know the writer never gets enough credit. On The Waterfront won 8 Academy Awards, including
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay: Budd Schulberg, who also wrote: (A Face in the Crowd, The Harder They Fall).

The script is tight! Kazan said the producer Sam Spiegel (who he did not like), kept asking Budd to rewrite the script to sharpen it to a fine point. Kazan said it was the best script he had worked on.

The movie has so many elements that are layered, like Terry Malone's past as a prize fighter who was ordered to take a dive for the big boss....And the entire subplot of caring for pigeons among the hawks of organized crime.

I'm glad I rewatched this as it gave me a new appreciation for the film.