On the Waterfront Reviews
Watched this on 20/5/16
Really different from an American film of the 50s, On the Waterfront has a plot that is worth remembering, something that is realistic because it deals with the life of the common folk of the time which might still resonate even today. Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and Eva Maria Saint give commendable performances where I feel that Malden gave the best despite a short screen time. The direction, the music are all spot on and the carry the movie forward rather than make it feel artificial like in many noirs. However, I did not enjoy the ending that much, it could have been a bit more realistic than dramatic.
Brando is absolutely brilliant in this movie, and it boggles my mind that he considered his performance to be subpar after he saw it. He is a genius in the big moments and in the small ones he creates. Karl Malden is also outstanding as the priest who tries to rally the workers to stand up for themselves, and Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger turn in strong performances as the mob boss and one of his lieutenants (and Brando's brother), respectively. It's a shame that these three were all nominated for best supporting actor but split the vote so that none of them would win, though the film won 8 others, including Best Picture.
The scene in the taxicab with the brothers, where Steiger implores and even threatens Brando to remain silent, is one of the best in movie history - not just because of the fantastic script, but also because of Brando's acting. He recalls having to take a dive in a fight for a mob, and when his brother blames his manager for trying to bring him along too fast as a young boxer, running his career, he responds:
"It wasn't him Charlie, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden, you came down into my dressing room and said, 'kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.' You remember that? This ain't your night! My night ... I could have taken Wilson apart. So what happens, he gets the title shot outdoors in a ballpark and what do I get, a one-way ticket to palookaville. You was my brother, Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me, just a little bit, so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money."
Charlie: "I had some bets down for you, you saw some money."
"You don't understand! I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender! I coulda been somebody! Instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charlie."
That scene of being let down by a loved one is so poignant that on its own it makes the movie worth watching, but it's rock solid throughout, even if a little on the dramatic side at the ending. Kazan provided great direction with scenery that looked realistic because it was, having been shot in Hoboken with many of the extras real longshoremen, and on rooftops with aerials and dovecotes. I absolutely HATE the idea that Kazan made the film in part to justify his own testimony to congress during the McCarthy years, but it's a sad fact about the backstory of the film.
With that said, I have to put that aside and give it credit for being a great, great film. Aside from the taxicab scene, there are a couple of others that give me goosebumps every time I see them, one of which is Malden calling out the bosses in a speech despite being threatened and having garbage thrown at him ("Every time the mob puts pressure on a good man and stops him from doing his duty as a citizen - it's a crucifixion!"). This is a tough, gritty movie, about the little man overcoming intimidation to stand up for himself against evil. The theme is timeless, and the movie creates timeless, immortal moments.
Overall I didn't hate the film, I just thought it was too cluttered to be enjoyable and too dull to be rewatchable. It may be a classic in many people eyes, and certainly impressed the Academy in it's time, but for me it's an over-long snoozer I won't be rushing to see again any time soon.
The over-dramatic Bernstein score takes away more than it gives.
The irony of this film's being made only because its director DIDN'T do what Terry Malloy did - stand up to thugs in authority - leaves me with reservations. I wish I could be kinder but it saddens me that Kazan never expressed regret for what he did - see both his and Brando's autobiographies. Maybe this film is his way of expressing that regret.
We certainly wouldn't have this compelling drama if he had acted otherwise. There is life in all its complexity.