Title – On the Waterfront (1954)
Director – Elia Kazan (East of Eden)
Cast – Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger
Plot – Once a contender to be a prized fighter, dock worker Terry Malloy (Brando) now finds himself working for corrupt dock boss Johnny Friendly (Cobb), a tenuous relationship that threatens to break apart when Terry falls for Edie Doyle (Saint), the sister of a man Friendly has just had murdered.
“The only arithmetic he ever got was hearing the referee count up to ten”
Review by Eddie on 01/06/2020
While he’d already made his mark in the industry with noted performances in A Streetcar Named Desire, Julius Caesar and The Wild One, 1954 was the year in which Marlon Brando became etched in Hollywood history with his Oscar winning performance in the critically lauded and instantly renowned On the Waterfront.
Teaming up once more with his Streetcar director Elia Kazan (who also won one of Waterfront’s other 7 Oscars outside of Brando’s Best Actor gong), Brando’s much copied and effortlessly cool performance as wannabe pro-boxer turned small-time hoodlum and dock worker Terry Malloy is the type of performance that changed the shape of feature film acting moving forward and to this day remains an impressive piece of work in a film that whilst melodramatic and heavy-handed in parts, deserves its place amongst the classics of American cinema.
From the moment we are first introduced to Malloy, clad in his leather jacket after a hard day’s work on the unforgiving docks of New York City, docks run by Lee J. Cobb’s corrupt docks boss Johnny Friendly, you know that Brando was born to play the role of a man whose tough exterior clearly houses a softer heart, a heart that finds itself falling for Eva Marie Saint’s softly spoken Edie.
There’s nothing ground-breaking as such about Waterfront’s plot, particularly in today’s climate where the set-up and pay-off of the film feels more familiar with various incarnations of this story taking place in the time since initial release, but with Brando front and centre throughout most of the films runtime and his strong chemistry with Saint (in her film debut) a joy to behold, Waterfront is an engaging piece of dramatic film-making that has aged far better than many of its counterparts of the time that don’t have the assured directional hand of Kazan guiding them throughout time or the ageless performances of its leads holding up to today’s standards.
The whole production under the eye of Kazan is one of the highest quality, engaging the services of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein and shot under the watchful eye of Oscar winning D.O.P Boris Kaufman, Waterfront’s impressively constructed world of steamy docks, pigeon-clad rooftops and gritty warehouses makes for a lived in world that feels as alive today as it did all those years ago.
Final Say –
Backed by a legendary turn from one of the all-time greats, On the Waterfront is still a powerful and impressive feat of dramatic film-making that is mandatory viewing for any one that considers themselves a die-hard cinema fan.
4 pigeons out of 5