Monday, 17 July 2017

On the Waterfront (1954)

Fig 1 - On the Waterfront Poster
Directed by Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront is the story of a mob-run harbor industry that runs the risk of exposure after the murder of a popular employee. Marlon Brando plays ex-prize fighter Terry Malloy, a low-level associate of crime boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). In the beginning, Malloy sets up a fellow employee, Joey, by coaxing him to the roof of his apartment building where the mob are waiting to ambush him. When Joey is thrown from the building, Malloy feels personally responsible, stating that he thought they would only "lean on him" to assure he wouldn't testify against Friendly. When the story makes headlines, local priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) declares his desire to track down Joey's murderer. However his attempts to coerce answers from the longshoremen are met with silence as the consequences of 'ratting out' the mob are far too great. Meanwhile, Malloy begins courting Joey's sister Edie, much to the dismay of his employer. Suspecting that he may be a threat to the business, Friendly's right-hand man, Malloy's brother Charley (Rod Steiger), is given the egregious task of either killing his own brother or sentencing himself to death. But who will come out on top in a battle between respect and justice?

The film dominated the 27th Academy Awards in 1955, taking home the Oscars for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Writing, Cinematography, Art Direction and Editing. It achieved a further four nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (three of which contended) and Best Music, making it's mark as the 10th most successful film to sweep the Academy Awards (as of 2017).

Fig 2 - On the Waterfront - Charley & Terry Malloy
Once again I find myself writing about a cinematic legend with little insight that hasn't already been expressed many times over. Essentially, I had a reasonably enjoyable time with it. Performances by Marlon Brando and Lee J. Cobb (or as I know him, the most belligerent juror in 12 Angry Men (1957)) stood out as the most captivating elements to me. Brando's Malloy is a conflicted and somewhat, let's call it "street-smart", kid who appears constantly pained by his position in society. The loss of his boxing career and guilt over the death of an innocent man absolutely weigh on Malloy's every word and expression, giving much dimension to a character with a knowing sadness about him. Roger Ebert put it best in saying that "the story is about conscience" and this rings true in just about every scene. In his attempts to correct all wrong-doings, Malloy only leads to more death and destruction, which ultimately gives him the courage to face the corrupt powers that run his life. Lee J. Cobb as "Friendly" is fierce and menacing as Malloy's opponent, appearing in short bursts to give momentum to the off-screen threat of his presence. I thought he was perfectly cast as the hot-headed crime boss and look forward to seeking out more of his work.

Despite a keen interest in the direction of the story, I felt that it was a tad shy of greatness for my liking. As much as I engaged with the performances, I found myself zoning out here and there only to be brought back up for an intensely satisfying finale. Therefore I have had to seriously deliberate over my final verdict on the film and now, having distanced myself from it by several days, I believe it to be deserving of all the acclaim it received. A truly terrific tale of adversity and internal conflict that proves once again how the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Imagery and Quotes

Ebert, Roger (On the Waterfront Review) - 21/03/99 (Accessed 17/07/17)

Fig. 1 On the Waterfront Poster (1954) From: On the Waterfront (1954) - Directed by: Elia Kazan

Fig. 2 On the Waterfront Screenshot (1954) From: On the Waterfront (1954) - Directed by: Elia Kazan

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