On The Waterfront (1954) – Elia Kazan


“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.”

Brando turns in a bravura performance in this, the next drama entry from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book. The film scored itself eight Oscars, including Picture, Best Actor (Brando), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eva Marie Saint) and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Lee J. Cobb).

The film itself is dark, gritty, and no-doubt influenced and set the town for many of the films later set in New York, foremost amongst them being Scorsese. It is set on the docks, where working class folk are struggling to get by, to make a fair living, to simply survive, but the corrupt union officials, run by Johnny Friendly (Cobb) decide who works, who doesn’t, who starves, and who dies.

Brando is an ex-prize fighter, Terry Malloy, working for Friendly. He’s not the sharpest, but he’s shaken when a friend of his is thrown from a roof for going against Friendly. When the friend’s sister Edie Doyle (Saint) won’t let his death go, and gets the local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden) to help her approach the dock workers for information, for support against Friendly, Terry finds himself in a position he never thought he’d be in – having to choose between what is right and wrong, and falling in love for what may very well be the first time.


Friendly begins to suspect Terry, and sends a message through Terry’s brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), who has, himself, worked for Friendly for years, that leaves Terry shaken, until, in the film’s climax, he faces Friendly down.

There’s a reality to everything in this film, the exteriors feel cold, as if you can feel the wind coming in off the water, and the black and white film has seemingly captured that chill perfectly. The performances match the surroundings, everything is dirty, gritty and real.

Looking back over the decades to this film, one could think it won’t stand up, that you’ve heard that line, ‘I coulda been a contender,’ countless times, so many that perhaps its lost its real meaning, having been out of context for so long. But watching this film, not only is the line still poignant, the film itself is still incredibly relevant. Everything that happens in this film, we are all well aware is happening today, and yet, next to nothing is being done about it.

It’s an amazing film, and I think, shows exactly why organizations need external watchdogs to make sure everything is done by the book, instead of people being taken advantage of, and whistle-blowers treated as outcasts for doing the right thing, though by the end of the film, most of the longshoremen stand with Terry.

Fantastic film, and I can’t believe I had never seen it before!






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s