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On the Waterfront

1954 Director: Elia Kazan

I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody."

It is easy to see why this film gets all of the love that it does. The small guy, in this case longshoreman, against the big guy, the mob, is a story that is as old and relate-able as civilization. Brando and Malden are amazing. This is probably my favorite Brando performance and that includes The Godfather which is one of my favorite films. There are four or five scenes in this movie that are so show stopping great that they could make you over look some of the flaws, of which there are a few.

Terry (Brando) is an ex-boxer who now is doing work for a union boss who is not anything more than a mob boss (Cobb). He has a couple of reasons for doing this kind of work. One: it is the only kind of work that most men in this town can get. The union is deciding who works and when, and if you want steady work being with them is the only way to assure it. Second: his brother is second in command which gives him little wiggle room. From the moment we meet Terry we see him as a conflicted man. When he plays a part in the death of a worker who is adored by everyone who knows him his regret is apparent. When he begins to fall for the deceased's sister things become much more complicated.

Their relationship is my biggest issue with the film. It never took me out of the story completely but the thought that she would have anything to do with this man who everyone knew is a part of the organization that killed her brother was tough to believe. Brando does an outstanding job of making Terry a sympathetic character however, and that helps alleviate some of my issues. One of my other issues with the film, despite my love of Cobb's performance, is when we are introduced to the boss and and Terry's brother. Much of the scene works because of the performances. The scene seems to exist just to spoon feed us exposition a tactic which always leaves me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

Brando is magnificent and has a lot of great scenes. The scene in the cab with his brother and the climax on the dock are two that jump immediately to mind. What shocked me while watching the film though is that Malden is every bit as great as Brando, playing the priest with a true conscious for the people. Malden and Brando don't spend as much time on screen together as you would hope, but the scenes they do have together are mesmerizing and perfect. Cobb's role is smaller, but he is great in every moment we get to spend with his seedy character as well.

On The Waterfront is a true classic. A very good story with outstanding performances. I enjoyed the time I spent with it very much.