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On the Waterfront (1954)

  Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Budd Schulberg
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint
Links: On the Waterfront on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 9.00 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 14th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"Gold in black-and-white" - a review by em_fiction

Call me an idiot, but when it comes to black-and-white films, I always find the need to have to qualify them as either being 'watchable' or 'not watchable'. Look, I wouldn't go as far as to say that I would actually hold the fact that a black-and-white film is black-and-white against it in judging, but for us young and stupid modern-day people, black-and-white does come with a certain stigma. Because of this shallowness, my standards are much lower for black-and-white films — so low that I just need to be able to follow the plot and it would almost be safe to call it a good film.

After watching On the Waterfront, I vow never to treat black-and-white films differently, ever again.

mino has already given quite a detailed overview of the plot, so I'll just get straight to the point. On the Waterfront is an excellent film. It's true: Marlon Brando does give an extraordinary performance as Terry Malloy. Not that I've seen much of his older stuff (at the moment, just this and The Wild One (1953)), but I wouldn't be surprised if this really is his best performance ever (well, second best; his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972) is pretty much unsurpassable).

The more I watched, the more I realised how lowbrow I was with my previous view on black-and-white films. Not only was the plot followable, it was incredibly engrossing. It was filled with suspense, heart, passion and poignancy.

I'll be perfectly honest and say that I have no idea what else to add to the review. If you want to broaden your film options with some truly classic cinema, this is definitely a perfect place to start. The first time I saw it, I got carried away and immediately declared it my 'favourite black-and-white film ever'. That was until I saw 12 Angry Men (1957) which, by the way, has the same bad guy.

em_fiction gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 23 Dec 2004

"Brando brilliance" - a review by mino

On The Waterfront is regarded as one of the true classics of cinema, and rightly so. It's a great story, well-told, and features one of the greatest acting performances you'll ever see. What more could you want?

It's the story of Terry Malloy, who besides being a former prizefighter is a dockworker in New York, which is a hotbed of crime and corruption. Malloy is in tight with dockers' union boss Johnny Friendly, who rules the docks with a fist made out of something that makes iron look positively soft and squishy. However, when Johnny's gang offs Joey Doyle, a colleague who's going to spill the beans to the Crime Commission about the corrupt work practices on the docks, Malloy starts to wonder if he's doing the right thing by helping Johnny (and his own brother, who's Johnny's right-hand man) wield their power over the struggling workers who aren't in Johnny's gang.

What's worse, Terry meets up with, and finds himself quite fancying Edie, the dead man's sister. What follows is a bit of a moral crisis, with Terry torn between his loyalty to his brother, fear of his employer, regret over his role in Joey's death, and the wise counsel of a rabble-rousing priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden, who is wonderful, but goddamn he really did have a big nose, didn't he?). It's a cracking story, and very well-told: director Elia Kazan manages to make what could be a rather dull tale into a gripping story which is brought to life by wonderful acting from everyone involved. Malloy is a truly great cinematic hero, and it's very hard not to cheer him on, and even agonise along with him when he's facing down — or facing up to — his demons. The famous ‘I coulda been a contender’ scene in the car, where Terry confronts his brother — possibly one of the most well-known scenes in movie history — is an example. It's been repeated, quoted, parodied, and mentioned so many times it's practically a cliché, but Brando's brilliant performance makes it one of the most absorbing scenes you'll see in a movie.

If there's one weak link in the cast it's probably Eva Marie Saint as Edie, who is not particularly engaging or convincing. In a way, though, I think this might just be part of the way the movie has aged — vulnerable soppy women aren't really the preferred form of your modern cinema heroine, so she just seems a little anachronistic, perhaps. But apart from that, nearly every performance is wonderful, and the story seems just as fascinating a tale today as it did in the fifties, though the anti-Communist slant of that era must have given it something of an edge back then, I'd imagine.

Sadly, towards the end of his life Brando probably spent more time being used as the punchline of jokes than he did being remembered as a great actor. For anyone who's unfamiliar with the greatness of Brando's earlier work — having only seen him in the sad state he was in in, say, The Score (2001) — you really should drop what you're doing and see him as Terry in On The Waterfront immediately. Quite apart from the fact that it's a corker of a film, you owe it to yourself (and to Brando) to see him at his mesmerising best rather than the sorry case he was in his later years.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 10 Sep 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 9.00
Lowest rating: 9 (by em_fiction, mino)
Highest rating: 9 (by em_fiction, mino)
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