On The Waterfront * * * *


Director: Elia Kazan.
Screenplay: Budd Schulberg.
Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Martin Balsam, Fred Gwynne, Pat Hingle.

A timeless classic and one that is still revered and endlessly quoted to this day – with one scene in particular “I coulda been a contender…” that has went down in cinema history. Unfortunately, there was some more dark history behind it all, from director Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) works on the docks run by corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). As long as everyone does what Friendly tells them, then there are no problems. However, Terry witnesses the murder of a young man who crosses Friendly and can’t quite let his conscience ignore it, feeling the need to testify against the local criminal and bring him to justice, despite causing more trouble for himself in the process.

It’s hard to be subjective in my opinion of this film in the knowledge that writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan had been informants during the 1950’s “Communist Witch-Hunt” and named several of their friends to right-wing senator Joseph McCarthy as being involved in “Un-American activities” and destroyed people’s lives and careers in the process. This is a major problem in the telling of this story, as it is obvious that both Schulberg and Kazan were justifying their deplorable actions through the “heroic” character of Terry Malloy. Despite this, however, there is no denying the talent involved in this film. Brando finally bagged a deserving Oscar for his role as angst ridden ex-pugalist Terry, with great support from Rod Steiger as his conflicted brother Charley; Karl Malden as the local priest and voice of reason Father Barry and a snarling Lee J. Cobb as union boss Johnny Friendly. It’s all beautifully shot by Kazan and despite his personal exploits (like Roman Polanski), there is no denying the man has talent but I just can’t bring myself to give it five stars or forgive his audacity at “naming names”, blatantly showing no remorse for it and passing it off as entertainment.

If viewed as just a film then it’s quality stuff. Kazan has crafted a wonderful piece of cinema with superb performances but a very dubious message permeates throughout.

For an alternative view on it’s themes have a look at “The Crucible“.

Mark Walker


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