Sunday, February 20, 2011

270. On the Waterfront (1954)

Running Time: 108 minutes
Directed By: Elia Kazan
Written By: Malcolm Johnson, Budd Schulberg, from articles by Malcolm Johnson
Main Cast: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger


With the Oscars a mere one week away, I figured we'd take a week out and take a look back at some of the movies that have been deemed the Best Picture of the Year by the Academy Awards. First up is "On the Waterfront", a movie that I watched for the first time today and one that is currently streaming on Netflix.

The film revolves around organized crime and takes place on the docks of the New Jersey waterfront. Union boss Johnny Friendly (Cobb) rules over the docks with an iron fist and the film opens with the "hit" of one of the dock worker's, mainly one of the dock workers who planned to testify to the Waterfront Crime Commission. The murdered dock worker is lured out of his apartment by Terry Malloy (Brando), who knew nothing of the hit and just assumed that the boys were going to rough him up a bit. Malloy later meets and falls in love with the murdered dock worker's sister, Edie (Saint), who is trying her best to get to the bottom of the murder of her brother. A local priest, Father Barry (Malden), is also determined to expose the crimes that are being committed on the waterfront. The film basically deals with Malloy's struggle to choose between right & wrong and good & evil, as he continues to see people he knows get whacked and continues to fall deeper and deeper in love with Edie, a girl for whom he has all the answers to all of her unanswered questions.


I have to admit, despite the popularity that this movie garners, I wasn't too crazy about it. Now before you jump all over me for not sharing your opinion, allow me to explain. The one thing people usually like to cite about "On the Waterfront" is the acting job of Marlon Brando and I won't argue that in the slightest. In my opinion, Brando did a fine job and was totally immersed in his Terry Malloy character. Hell, I'd even throw Karl Malden in there too, as I thought he held his own with the likes of acting greats like Brando and Lee J. Cobb (I've always liked Cobb, ever since I saw "12 Angry Men" and was delighted to see his name in the opening credits). I'll also be the first to admit that this was a pretty powerful movie, which was beautifully shot. There are so many scenes that I can look at and say "Damn, now that's great stuff". I loved Malden's speech right after the murder of Kayo Dugan, as bottles and garbage are being thrown at him but he keeps right on preaching and it's the moment when Terry's arms are being pulled the hardest in either direction.

The ending was fantastic and any rating I give this film, half of it is because of the ending. To me, the ending signified that one, big, championship fight that boxer Terry Malloy never got a chance to contend in. When he was able to stand up for himself and for his fellow man and snub his nose at the crime world. When Father Barry asks Malloy if he can walk, and Terry, bleeding all over the place, drags himself to his feet and walks past all of his fellow dock workers, it was such an inspirational scene.

Now with all of that praise being showered on the doorstep of "On the Waterfront", why don't I care too much for it? Well it may be hard for me to put my finger on, but here goes. For starters, I just don't think they emphasized the struggle that the character of Malloy was going through enough. To me, this was a film about a man having to decide between good and evil, with evil being the predominant factor in most of his life and all he really knew. To me, it was a combination of the Edie character and all the murder that surrounded him, that forced him to reconsider his status. I just don't think that was emphasized enough and when Terry finally cracks, it comes as no surprise, because it's obviously that's where we were going. Brando was great as Terry Malloy, but who was Terry Malloy, because to me his character just wasn't defined enough. What made this guy finally throw up his hands and say "Dammit, I'm not going to take it anymore!"? Was it the girl? Is that all it took for Terry to see the light and issue a backlash toward his former friends? To me, just not enough definition in this film, not enough focus. And Bernstein's score was much too aggressive in my opinion. Terry wasn't a superhero, he was a man and a man doesn't need superhero music, he needs subtle music that lingers in the background, while still adding something to the overall picture.

RATING: 5.5/10 I'm conflicted on this one and honestly I could see it growing on me over time, but for now we'll just leave it at that.


February 20, 2011 3:31pm

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