Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). Director: Elia Kazan.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), a once-promising boxer, is (somewhat) innocently involved in the death of a young man who dared to speak out against mob control of the waterfront union. Confused and guilty, he begins a relationship with the man's grieving sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). Wanting to do the right thing but not wanting to go up against the brother he loves (Rod Steiger), Terry struggles to decide whether or not to testify against crooked boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), knowing it may destroy his brother (who in a sense destroyed Terry's life) and himself in the process. This is a trenchant study of good versus evil -- with shades of gray -- and features many excellent performances. Brando may not be to everyone's taste, but he gives an undeniably expert performance in this. Eve Marie Saint, who was introduced in this film, is lovely and affecting and totally believable as Edie. The other cast members are also very effective, especially Pat Henning as "Kayo" Dugan. Strong, unsentimental script by Budd Schulberg (one possible flaw -- we never get to know much about the man whose death precipitates the story. Also Karl Malden's priest character, while well-played, is perhaps too stereotypically saintly to be believed.) Strikingly photographed by Boris Kaufman and expertly directed by Kazan. Interesting score by Leonard Bernstein. Brando's "I coulda been a contender" speech to his brother remains one of the best sequences in the movie. Highly influential on many subsequent movies, including Raging Bull, which is nowhere near as good.

Verdict: A masterpiece. ***1/2.

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