On the Waterfront

Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954) is a near perfect picture in tone and tenor, whose melodrama does not detract from its substantial artistry. Marlon Brando is Terry Malloy, a former prizefighter who is now a New York dockworker and errand boy for the mob boss who runs the local stevedore union (Lee J. Cobb). Terry's brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is the boss's right-hand and so the unskilled and dim Terry gets to count coffee bags and nap and tend to his racing pigeons. Terry, though a bum, starts to wise up after becoming a part of a hit the boss arranges against a longshoreman who plans to testify against the mob. The informant's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) is intent on finding out who tossed her brother off the roof of his apartment building and suspects that Terry knows. Terry, who takes an immediate liking to the spunky schoolgirl, urges Edie not to pry but after more attacks decides to do what he can to set things right. The script by Budd Schulberg crackles with "wise guy speak" as it lays out a morality tale of conscience and corruption in the watery world of longshoremen. Brando and Cobb are beyond superb as flinty antagonists in this tale -- beautifully filmed in overcast grays -- that asks viewers to reflect on the price of one's soul.


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