On the Waterfront (1954)
Bolstered by an exceptional story and a towering performance from Marlon Brando. On the Waterfront is an undeniable classic that was and continues to be an outstanding advocate for cinema and its storied history. On The Waterfront’s criminal roots are the ideal foundation for its strong, economic messages on corruption, unionization, and stability. Using the eerie, dark backdrop of New Jersey’s docks, connected rooftops, and dreary slums, such as local bars and workers cabins. This blur and filth adds a depressing effect to a visceral love story filled with social and political momentum. On the Waterfront is on an even keel visually and intellectually. Starring Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint and directed by the illustrious Elia Kazan. Not sacrificing any facet for the benefit of showmanship or appeal, On the Waterfront is an unmissable masterpiece.
Terry Malloy (Brando) was once a prize fighter, but now finds himself under the employment of Johnny Friendly (Cobb) working at the docks. Friendly is the corrupt, malicious boss of the union for the dock workers. After Malloy assists unknowingly in Friendly and his thugs committing a murder, he is repulsed by what he has become. Malloy cannot betray Friendly because he is a friend of the family and is also the boss of his brother Charley (Steiger). In this depression, more workers each morning show up at the docks hoping for a day of employment, which places Friendly in a position to take advantage of them. Upon falling for Edie Doyle (Saint), who is the sister of the man murdered, Malloy gains deeper morals. Joining forces with Edie, a local priest, and some dock workers, Malloy sets out to end Friendly’s reign of terror.
Brando and Kazan revamped and set new heights for cinema with their 1954 exploration into romance and worker exploitation. Revealing the slivers underneath its numerous layers such as guilt, religion, and greed. On the Waterfront slowly peels back its skin and lets each thorn unveil itself in time. To this very day, On the Waterfront is still a remarkably paced film considering the evolution of cinema.For Kazan and Brando, this was their third film released together in just under five years. They previously combined to release Viva Zapata! in 1952 and A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, which also took the cinematic world by storm. I think its fair to say that Brando and Kazan form quite the formidable duo.
One thing I believe to be true about film is that we will never know how great a movie truly is until a significant amount of time has passed. A picture may be at the forefront for a moment, but what good is it if it dwindles with passing time. It’s been almost 60 years since On the Waterfront’s initial release and it is still relevant to cinema and its patrons today. Full of timeless sequences and dialogue, there is no denying the greatness of On The Waterfront.
Aside from his career defining performance in The Godfather, Marlon Brando has never been better. Also lending his expertise to On the Waterfront is the magnificent Lee J. Cobb. Who, before going on to star in other gems such as 12 Angry Men and The Exorcist, portrayed a ruthless gangster in this harrowing tale of one mans struggle to silence his heavy conscious. Arguably Kazan’s most complete film, On the Waterfront radiates his prominent skill set in unmissable fashion. Rivalling Brando in her supporting role is Eva Marie Saint. Although Saint’s character is so passively aggressive, the aggression is not as noticeable as her potent shyness. Truly an unrivalled ensemble who perform On the Waterfront flawlessly.
Please forgive the incoherence of this article. When I am reviewing films that fall into the category of my all time favourites, I find it exceedingly hard to review them.
On the Waterfront: 9 out of 10.