On the Waterfront (1954)
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Budd Schulberg
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger
Terry Malloy (Brando) had a chance to make it as a prize-fighter. His chance passed him by, and his life as a longshoremen has pitted him against the corrupt system. As he struggles with his conscience, Terry seeks guidance from Father Barry (Malden) and Edie Doyle (Saint). Soon he’s forced to face Big John (Cobb) and the powerful men that surround him.
This is a classic film that features an incredible collection of classic Hollywood talent. The film was written by Budd Schulberg (A Face in the Crowd) and directed by Elia Kazan (Gentleman’s Agreement). the film earned Kazan an Oscar for Best Director, and the movie went on to win Best Picture as well. The cast is led by Marlon Brando (The Godfather) and Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire). In addition Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest), Lee J. Cobb (Call Northside 777), and Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night) are all featured.
This emotional tale of lost potential and corruption was penned by Budd Schulberg. He was inspired by the articles written by Malcolm Johnson and published in the New York Sun in 1949. The story is one of frustration that seems built for the stars of the film. The sense of loss and despair is accentuated by the suspense built into the movie. This screenplay has so much to offer, and it stands up wonderfully after 60 years. Budd Schulberg earned an Oscar for Best Writing for his work on this movie.
The acting in this movie features some of the great performances of the era. It’s almost unreal how much talent was packed into this movie. Marlon Brando leads the way with an emotional performance that captures the conflict within his character perfectly. Brando brings out the anger and frustration of his role as well. There’s no question that he was deserving of the Best Actor Oscar he won for this film. He wasn’t the only star in this one. Eva Saint Marie took home her own Oscar for her work in this movie. Her performance as the frustrated and idealistic young Edie is wonderful.
In addition, Karl Malden earned an Oscar nomination for his great performance as Father Barry. His idealism and resolve really help to bring out the message of this movie. The performance that Lee J. Cobb gives in this movie is awesome. Like 12 Angry Men he seems to embody a sense of contention. He was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work. Rod Steiger was also nominated for the Best Supporting Actor award for his great work as Terry’s brother Charley. The rest of the cast does a great job bringing out the real emotion of this story. It’s one of the best acted movies of all-time.
Visually, this movie captures a unique version of American life. The cinematography by Boris Kaufman (Baby Doll) is amazing. He took advantage of the locations and the sets perfectly. There is a wonderful use of shadows and light to really keep the tension of the movie. In many ways this is almost film noir in a visual sense. Kaufman earned an Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work in this one. In addition, Richard Day (The Grapes of Wrath) won for Best Set Decoration and Gene Milford (Wait Until Dark) won for Best Editing. On top of these incredible visuals, Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) was nominated for his original score for this movie. The music has a somber tone that adds an emotional layer to the whole movie.
This is a classic movie that works just as well today as it ever did. If anything, time has taken some of the stigma away from Kazan that followed him during this time. He was not the popular figure among his peers due to his testimony before the HUAC. Still, this movie was a massive success, winning eight Oscars and earning huge returns at the box office.
If you’re a fan of anyone in this movie you need to check it out. I would also suggest it to fans of great drama. This is a wonderful movie with a powerful story. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.