On the Waterfront (1954)


On the Waterfront is a 1954 American drama film about union violence and corruption among longshoremen. The film was directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg. It stars Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. The soundtrack score was composed by Leonard Bernstein. It is claimed it was based on a series of articles written in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson. However in 1950 playwright Arthur Miller approached Kazan with the script THE HOOK. They took it to the major Hollywood studios, where Miller would meet Marilyn Monroe for the first time. The script was checked by the F.B.I. and they concluded the script should be re-written with the crooks as Communists. Miller withdrew, and Columbia boss Harry Cohen called Miller anti-American. Kazan confessed to a past with the communist party, gave names to HUAC, and was assured he could continue with the studio. On the Waterfront is an adaptation of The Hook, except Kazan made Brando out as the guy who snitches but keeps his honour, as he wished himself to be seen as that person. The film received eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. It is Leonard Bernstein's only original film score not adapted from a stage production with songs.


This story of Mob informers was based on a number of true stories and filmed on location in and around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey. Mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) gloats about his iron fisted control of the waterfront. The police and the Waterfront Crime Commission know that Friendly is behind a number of murders, but witnesses play "D and D" ("deaf and dumb"), submitting to their oppressed position rather than risk the danger and shame of informing. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a dockworker whose brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is Friendly's lawyer. Some years earlier, Terry had been a promising boxer until Friendly had Charley instruct him to deliberately lose a fight that he could have won, so that Friendly could win money betting on the weaker opponent. Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy with Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle. As the film begins, simpleminded Terry is used to coax a popular dockworker, Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner), out to an ambush, preventing him from testifying against Friendly before the Crime Commission. Terry resents being so used in the murder but is still willing to remain D&D. Terry meets and is smitten by the murdered Joey Doyle's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), who has shamed "waterfront priest" Father Barry (Karl Malden) into fomenting action against the union/mob. Soon both Edie and Father Barry are urging Terry to testify. Another dockworker by the name of Kayo Dugan who agrees to testify after Father Barry's promise of unwavering support, ends up dead after Friendly arranges for him to be crushed by a load of whiskey in a staged accident. As Terry, tormented by his awakening conscience, increasingly leans toward testifying, Friendly decides that Terry must be killed unless Charley can coerce him to keep quiet. Charley tries bribing Terry with a plum job, and finally threatens him by holding a gun up against him, but recognizes he has failed to sway Terry, who places the blame for his own downward spiral on his well-off brother. In one of the most famous scenes in film history, Terry reminds Charley that if it had not been for the fixing of the fight, "I coulda been a contender." Charley gives Terry a gun and advises him to run. Friendly has been spying on the situation, so he has Charley murdered, his body hanged in an alley as bait to get at Terry. Terry sets out to shoot Friendly, but Father Barry obstructs that course of action and finally convinces Terry to fight Friendly by testifying. After the testimony, Friendly announces that Terry will not find employment anywhere on the waterfront. Edie tries to persuade him to leave the waterfront with her, but he nonetheless shows up during recruitment at the docks. When he is the only man not hired, Terry openly confronts Friendly, proclaiming that he's proud of what he did. Finally, the altercation develops into a vicious brawl, with Terry getting the upper hand until Friendly's goons gang up on Terry and nearly beat him to death. The dockworkers, who witnessed the confrontation, declare support of Terry and refuse to work unless Terry is working too. Finally, the badly wounded Terry forces himself to his feet and enters the dock, followed by the other longshoremen.