On The Waterfront

Elia Kazan, USA, 1954, 108 minutes

Ex-fighter Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) used to be a contender, but now acts as errand boy for local mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J.Cobb), who runs a stretch of New Jersey waterfront. After luring a troublesome worker to a nasty fall off a building Malloy questions his loyalties, and thus is immediately treated as a liability. The comforting support of a priest and the worker's widow pave way for atonement, but the murder of his brother provokes a battling quest to bring justice to the local docks. For over fifty years On The Waterfront has been a critic's darling, and it's status as one of the most powerful films of all time is rarely debated. Beyond Brando's savage central performance, the gritty, pseudo-documentary style of cinematography and pitch-perfect screenplay balance the film against the more histrionic supporting players.

Emerging from the embers of the McCarthy blacklisting era, Kazan has admitted that Malloy's inner conflict reflects his own decision inform against Hollywood talent with Communist ideals. The story of pre-production is interesting; 20th Century Fox passed on the project claiming "nobody would care about a bunch of sweaty longshoreman", and Frank Sinatra almost landed the role after Brando neglected to read the script. A heart-rending account of union corruption and the consequences of betrayal, this marked the finest collaboration between director and star and is regarded by many as the ultimate testament to Brando's brilliance in front of a camera.

Review by Chay Williamson
Written for EUFS Programme Autumn 2005