On the Waterfront (1954)
Washed-up boxer and union dock worker Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) witnesses the murder of a fellow union member by goons under the control of mob-boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Malloy is not a snitch by any means and decides keeping his mouth shut even when the ever-present Father Berry (Karl Malden) persists that someone speak up against Friendly. It isn’t until Malloy meets the sister (Eva Marie Saint) of the man he saw die that he begins to think that speaking up might clear his conscience of his part in the murder. He struggles with what is right, wrong and his place in regards to telling the truth, but when Father Berry is attacked, Malloy decides it’s time to own up and cooperate.
Coming in at #19 on the AFI Top 100 list, On the Waterfront can be closely compared with fellow AFI Top 100 films Chinatown and The Third Man. It has murder, conspiracy, crime, noir and plenty of drama. While Chinatown is more about the investigation, On the Waterfront is about the inner struggle of one man who has the ability to change the lives of hundreds of people who work on the docks. More importantly he has the power to change a culture of mob control by doing what is right. With the famous “I coulda been a contender” speech appearing halfway through, Marlon Brando collected his first Oscar for Best Actor. In fact, the movie as a whole racked up 12 nominations total with 8 wins including one for Eva Marie Saint and Best Picture. Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger were all up against each other for Best Supporting Actor but all lost. The acting as a whole is great all around. All in all, I can see why this movie is highly praised and on the AFI list, but it’s not one I would sit down to watch often. Plus I liked Chinatown much better.
7/10 Stars – Had too much melodrama and not enough crime for my liking, but it is a well made film.
On the Waterfront is a classic black and white drama from back in the day with plenty of intrigue, fighting and social commentary to boot. I think the power of this film and its ability to hold up over time is its story. The acting is fine – sorry I don’t worship Marlon Brando like everyone else – the action or fighting is mediocre considering what we are privy to today so all that is left is the story. The story delivers a great show however with loads of drama, intrigue, action and even a bit of romance. With strong themes of morality and corruption it might make you think twice about your behavior if you are a gangster…or into bad things in general. All in all, On the Waterfront was a decent watch but not something to excite me into a second viewing but I would preserve it for future generations of movie fanatics like myself.
7/10 Stars – Not one I would pull out and say “ooo I want to watch this” but it had elements of greatness which explains why it is on the AFI top 100.
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