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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On the Waterfront - 1954

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) spends his days only hoping that he will one day be a prize fighter, while working for the union boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Terry unknowingly participates in the murder of Joey Doyle, which was planned by Friendly. Terry later meets and falls in love with Joey's sister, who introduces him to Father Barry (Karl Malden), and Terry begins to feel guilty for his past deeds. But with the help of Father Barry, Terry will take responsibility for his past, and stand up to Friendly and his corrupt ways as union boss.

On the Waterfront has got to be one of the most underrated, and overlooked films today. I mean, sure the old critics loved it and still do, but nowadays you just do not hear people discussing On the Waterfront when it comes to the greatest films ever made. Which is a shame, because from what I have seen On the Waterfront is easily one of the best, no doubt top 20 material. I certainly was not alive in 1954, but I highly doubt cinema at that time had ever seen a film quite like this one.

I am sure if you have ever read any of my other reviews you know my love for Elia Kazan as a director. But On the Waterfront especially out of all of his films shows his ability to craft a fantastic film. The film combines Kazan and Budd Schulberg as the writer, who has also written for another film I love, A Face in the Crowd. Normally in older films the story tends to lag a bit, but here Schulberg and Kazan team up and make a very interesting story, that draws in the audience from the first scene. Now a movie about a corrupt union boss is not for everyone, but I think that On the Waterfront will please almost all big movie buffs, and is a film that should be seen by most. Kazan's direction is definitely at the height of his career in this film, as he makes every single scene in this film count, with not a wasted or boring moment from start to finish. Budd Schulberg's writing was Oscar worthy as well. His screenplay is very well written, and the script is about as good as it will ever get in a film.

Now the acting was by far the most impressive part of On the Waterfront. After finishing it, I had to ask myself if all the people in the world that say Marlon Brando's best performance is in The Godfather have even seen this film. I loved Brando in The Godfather, but in my opinion this is by far his career performance. He plays the character of a rough fighter to absolute perfection, and he puts a lot of feeling into his performance as well. As his character unfolds during the middle of the film, Brando's performance unfolds as well and he hits a home run here. This is definitely one of the more deserved Oscar wins in cinema history, and if I had a top 10 performance list, Brando would be on it for his performance in this film. But all the credit cannot go to him, he had an absolutely incredible supporting cast. Karl Malden as Father Barry was brilliant, and Eva Marie Saint was great as well. Plus, it's always a pleasure to watch a film where Lee J. Cobb has a big part, and he did not let down. The acting was Oscar worthy all around.

I would also like to make a little notw about the cinematography. Sometimes compared to films nowadays it can be hard to enjoy the look of an older film, as they just do not seem to have aged well anymore. Technology is improving everday! But the cinematography in On the Waterfront is very good, and I mean some of the best I have ever seen in a black and white film. It is not a strain at all to sit and watch it, and that is just another thing that impressed me in the film.

Overall, On the Waterfront is truly a film masterpiece. Great writing and perfect direction combine here to make a near perfect film. Marlon Brando gives a brilliant performance, and is what I think to be hands down his best, which is saying something considering his career. The story is amazing, and has an unforgettable ending. On the Waterfront is a film for all movie buffs around the world.

Rating: 10/10


  1. Great review Matt! I absolutely love this film.
    It's good that you mentioned the cinematography. It is the unnoticed aspect of the film that makes it more beautiful.

  2. Agreed. Glad you noticed that as well! Thanks Jericho!

  3. I watched this for the first time a couple of months ago and I was blown away.
    Sometimes you watch a film you've heard a lot about and it doesn't live up to its reputation but this one did in spades!
    Superb acting from all the cast and excellent cinematography as you rightly point out make On The Waterfront an all time great in my book.

  4. Definitely! It's rare that I truly find cinematography in old films worth mentioning these days, but here it was fantastic. Not to mention, as you said, The brilliant acting by the cast, especially Brando. Thanks for the read! :D