On The Waterfront to this day is considered to be Elia Kazan's greatest masterpiece. Upon opening release it was immediatly deemed an instant classic. Much time has passed, and On The Waterfront has never dulled or become less poignant.
The idea for On The Waterfront emerged from an article for the New York Sun. It was then adapted into a screenplay by was originally turned down by Daryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox. However, he later decided he would let 20th Century Fox make it into a film. After reading over the gritty script, he decided that Elia Kazan would be the perfect director for the film. However, Elia Kazan currently... hated Darryl F. Zanuck. The reason for his hatred was because of how Zanuck forced Kazan to cut down Man on a Tightrope to the bare bones. Believe me, Man on a Tightrope would have been better if all the essence of it had not been got out. It was an awful film (read my review here), and Kazan blamed Zanuck. However, Elia Kazan read the script and he was quite impressed. During a meeting with Kazan, Zanuck and the film screenwriter, Budd Schulberg, Zanuck admitted to something. He claimed he didn't like the script one bit. He didn't comprehend why anyone would possibly want to waste their time on a film about a bunch of poor, sweaty men. This was beneficial for Schulberg and Kazan's view of the film. They then met up with Sam Spiegel who decided the would re-locate their film to Columbia.
Sam Spiegel knew what was best for the film's future, and Marlon Brando was the best option. So Spiegel sent the script to Brando, however he placed small pieces of paper between several pages. When the script was returned to Speigel from Brando, Brando claimed he was not interested And yet, the small pieces of paper were still left in the pages, indicating that Brando had not even attempted to read it. However, Spiegel had his heart sent on Brando. As he continued to convince Brando, Frank Sinatra was hired in case Brando was unsuccessful.
This was a difficult film for Brando to accept. Not only was it a very controversial film with a difficult character for Brando to play, but his mother had just died and he was in the middle of a difficult time. Brando decided to accept the role for the greater good of his career. However, during the shooting, Brando could not stay past 4:00 P.M because every day after working he would have to go see his analyst. Brando was meeting with his analyst at the time because his mother was dead and he was having trouble getting over his family problems. The classic sequence in the back of the taxi cab where Brando's character and his brother (played by Rod Steiger) argue was completed after 4:00 P.M. The close-ups of Steiger could not be completed in time, so Brando had to leave. Steiger was very aggravated by this because he felt it was very difficult to feel as if he was the character with Brando. He was apparently very bitter during the shooting and he would often bring this up in many interviews to follow.
As I said earlier, On The Waterfront was an immediate success. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards including: Best Picture (won), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Director (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Actor (won), Best Writing (won), Three Best Supporting Actor Nominations (lost all three) and Best Music (lost).
Where does On The Waterfront stand today? It holds an 8.3 on IMDb, currently ranked as Kazan's best film. On Rotten Tomatoes, On The Waterfront has 100%, tied for Kazan's greatest film. On The Waterfront has never sunk in popularity and it is considered one of the greatest American films of all time.
Ex-boxer, Terry Malloy, now has to work on the docks to make money to stay alive. He sits back and remembers the times in his life where he mattered. It is then that the corrupt head of the docks, Johnny Friendly, manipulates Terry into helping them knock off someone Friendly wants out of the picture. In trying to escape his guilt, Terry falls in love with Edie, the sister of the man he knocked off.
As he continues hiding his secret he finds his brother has been knocked off by Friendly's men. Malloy then tries to take matters into own hands by getting his revenge and liberating the freedom of the under-paid dock-workers.
What can be said on On The Waterfront that has never been said before? I wish I could provide a unique opinion, but everything has been said before. Perhaps the primary aspect of On The Waterfront is the performance of the underling main character, played by Marlon Brando. For years and years everyone has been in awe of his performance. He takes what he did in A Streetcar Named Desire, but dials it down to a realistic level. Then he piles on a softer side to make us believe in him and to sympathize with him. I believe that Marlon Brando became a great actor after this film.
I found that the other performance worth commenting on is Karl Malden. I have found myself to be very impressed while watching every Kazan film, and this is another great film. There is a sequence in On The Waterfront where Karl Malden stands in a pit over the dead body of an acquaintance He yells about justice and the disrespect these people have shown. He yells about justice, and how these people need to stand up. It was then I felt in complete awe of the Karl Malden's acting. He makes us feel very strong emotions.
On The Waterfront is without a doubt Kazan's most dedicated film. He says so much about abuse, the mob and communism. Here in On The Waterfront we witness the well-acted, and yet unrealistic performance of Lee J. Cobb as Johnny Friendly. He abuses his workers and constantly operates around the law. Kazan certainly raised awareness for the abuse against dock workers. Over time, if there is one thing we have learned about audiences, is that they love film about gangsters. Have popular have Scorsese's film been? Well, On The Waterfront is the birth of Scorsese's gangster films. Here we view the entertaining type film of gangster in long coats, with guns sitting around smoking cigarettes. We see hatred, violence and the gritty truth. Here's the truth: we love gangster films. Yes, many people did not consider On The Waterfront to be about communism. Yet, the main character's values were of equality, that everyone should be treated equally. In fact, the main reason Kazan made this film was to make a point about communism to his friends.
Everything about On The Waterfront is so classic. How many people have not heard the lines "You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you Charley." These chracters are the ones that stick in our mind with the moments we stick in our mind. On The Waterfront is a gritty film about the realistic world we live in. Terry Malloy is a hero for every man in the world. On The Waterfront is a masterpiece, see it, NOW!
On The Waterfront,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb
1. On The Waterfront
2. Baby Doll
3. Panic in the Streets
4. Splendor in the Grass
5. East of Eden
6. A Streetcar Named Desire
7. The Last Tycoon
8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
9. Viva Zapata!
12. Wild River
13. America, America
14. The Sea of Grass
15. Man on a Tightrope
16. The Arrangement