On the Waterfront

Dir: Elia Kazan. 1954. Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, and Lee J. Cobb. Classics.
On the Waterfront

Elia Kazan is one of the most passionate and intelligent directors of classic cinema. Even surrounded by controversy in his time, he continued to make films in which he knew exactly what he wanted to say to the American audience, who emitted a mixed response towards the film.

On the Waterfront is no exception. The idea of the screenplay, written by Budd Schulberg, was formed after The New York Sun put out an expose series about a 1948 murder of a hiring boss on the New York waterfront. The stories, reported by Malcolm Johnson, explained the corruption, extortion, and killings of  everyday life on the waterfront. The protagonist of the film, Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, is an ex-prizefighter who becomes a longshoreman. His character is based on real-life longshoreman Anthony DiVincenzo, who recounted his story to writer Budd Schulberg. This is not a typical mob-story. It deals with the Waterfront Crime Commision, was filmed on location around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, and alludes to issues of loyalty and truth within post-war American society.

The beginning jumps right into all the action. Under Johnny Friendly’s job, Terry Malloy lures Joey Doyle to the rooftop, where two of Johnny’s men force him to jump, so the city considers it a suicide. Terry resents his position, but can’t do anything about it as long as Johnny remains in power. Edie, Joey’s sister, accompanied by Pop and Father Barry, wants to find out the truth of his death. Terry is approached by investigators, but claims to know nothing. At the pierguard, longshoremen fight for tabs, where Terry and Edie meet. Father Barry suggests for the union to meet in the church. Terry joins the congregation to find out more information.

The story continues so that Father Barry, Edie, and Terry are all involved in the longshoremen’s confrontations and the revenge for truth. It is said that the film is Kazan’s justification for his decision to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Considering the tension in America regarding HUAC confessions and the loyalty of those who refused to name names, the film is a bold and controversial statement. Does this hidden agenda corrupt the film? Whether one agrees or disagrees, the film’s statement is loud and clear, the direction and cinematography incredible, and the story itself invigorating and fascinating in its American historical value.


Out of the eleven Oscar nominations, the film received eight Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Film Editing.

Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jun 1, 2009 12:12pm
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