On the Waterfront (1954)

On the Waterfronton the waterfront poster
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Budd Schulberg based on his original story suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Horizon Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#281 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Edie: I want you to stay away from me.

Terry: Edie, you love me… I want you to say it to me.

Edie: I didn’t say I didn’t love you. I said, “Stay away from me.”

Every few years a group of craftspeople and artists at the peak of their creativity come together at one time and place and create a movie.  This is one such movie.

Terry Malone (Marlon Brando) grew up among longshoremen on the waterfront.  His brother Charley (Rod Steiger) went to college and became a big shot in the extremely corrupt union run by boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb).  At one time, Johnny backed Terry in his career as a prize fighter.  Now Terry works as longshoreman, raises pigeons, and does the bidding of Johnny and Charley.  One day this involves luring a whistle-blower, Joey Doyle, to the roof, from which he is then pushed by Johnny’s henchmen.


Terry has very mixed feelings about his part in Joey’s murder, which are further complicated by his feelings for Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint).  A local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), becomes radicalized and starts working to get Terry to testify against Johnny and his gang before a crime commission.  Terry is torn between loyalty to his roots and his developing conscience and love for Edie until the powerful climax of the story.

I hadn’t seen this one in awhile and was blown away yet again.  I think this is Marlon Brando’s greatest performance.  He balances sensitivity and explosive power brilliantly. Then we get some of the best character actors of the 50’s and 60’s at the top of their game.  The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray makes the fantastic cinematography shine.  If all this were not enough, Leonard Bernstein’s amazing score perfectly accompanies the action and emotion of the piece.  Most highly recommended.

On the Waterfront won Academy Awards for Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Saint); Best Director; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; and Best Film Editing.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (Cobb, Malden, and Steiger) and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comediy Picture.


7 thoughts on “On the Waterfront (1954)

  1. I agree, this is a movie where all the pieces come together and creates something bigger than the sum of its parts. Brando in particular, but also the gritty feel of whole thing is exquisite. 54 was a great year.

    • Such a great year … I remembered this as being good but not quite as good as on this viewing. I like Brando’s tenderness at times in this.

  2. Comparing ON THE WATERFRONT to GOING MY WAY, with brass knuckles? Because there is a priest involved in the story? Somehow, I think there was little over lap in the audiences. Still, your review and the trailer make me eager to revisit this classic.

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