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ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
#8 on the AFI Top 100. Ten Oscar nominations; eight wins (Best Direction, Best Picture, Best Actor, Supporting Actress,Writing, Art Direction, Editing, and Cinematography)
Director, Eli Kazan, made a powerful statement with this stirring motion picture drama.
Best Picture Oscar Winner / Best Picture Index
The basic story involves a loner, ex - prize
fighter longshoreman, Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) who inadvertently
witnesses a murder of a fellow longshoreman, Joey Doyle, at
the hands of two thugs, who were ordered to do this heinous
act by the corrupt union boss, the infamous Johnny Friendly
(Lee J. Cobb). Johnny, with the help of Terry's brother, Charlie
(Rod Steiger) also organized illegal activities along the waterfront,
and ran the dock workers' lives. When He meets Doyle's surviving
sister, Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) he starts to feel responsible.
After Edie sees a strong quality in his character that he had
never recognized before, and he is further encouraged by a rough
and tumble priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden) this loner takes
on the responsibility to fight the good fight, and testify before
The Waterfront Crime Commission, investigating corruption, union
crime, and underworld infiltration.
This dynamic, powerful screenplay by Budd Wilson Schulberg, and Malcolm Johnson (articles), gives this talented cast a lot of great material to really shine through. Brando, Steiger, Saint, Malden and Cobb give riveting performances, that powerfully tell the story that must have really pleased Schulberg and Johnson.
My favorite scene takes place between Terry
(Brando), and Charley (Rod Steiger), in the back of a taxi.
Referring to a prize fight that Steiger had Brando lose, Brando
delivers the classic line, "I could have been a contender,
I could have been somebody, instead of a bum which is what I
The great, inspiring direction, by the very talented Elia Kazan, a Greek-born immigrant, may have been inspired by Kazan's own whistle blowing troubles, which happened when he sincerely reported to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the names of other directors, as a matter of principle. Obviously, this didn't make him very popular with his peers, or the Hollywood crowd then or now. When he received an honorary Oscar in the late '90's, some in the audience refused to applaud.
Some have claimed that this film was really an allegory defending the 1950's, communist "witch hunt," that has Brando's character representing Hollywood types who reported suspected communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee, much as Kazan had done.
Unionists at the time of its release accused this film as being "communistic" and "anti-American."
Despite its critics, "On The Waterfront" was a huge hit with the movie-going audience, and won eight Oscars, including: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Brando), Supporting Actress (Saint), Story & Screenplay (Budd Schulberg), Cinematography (Boris Kaufman), Art Direction - Set Decoration (Richard Day), and Editing (Gene Milford).