Sunday, July 4, 2010

Canon Movie Review: On The Waterfront

This review comes from a suggestion from Canon Review reader Ben W. Mr. W had seen On the Waterfront recently, and recommended the movie for me to see. So I did. On the Waterfront is a 1954 movie which starred Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, and Rod Steiger. Directed by Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront won eight Oscars in 1955, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Supporting Actress (Saint). On The Waterfront is considered by many film critics as one of the best films in the history of American Cinema. After seeing the movie, I can definitely see why. A few thoughts about this movie (Warning: Spoilers ahead).

- Brando is considered on of the best actors of all time, and his performance in On The Waterfront showed why. As Terry Malloy, a shipyard worker who struggles to do the right thing after being a part of a murder, Brando is able to convey so many different emotions just with a simple look or with body language alone. Brando immerses himself so much into the part of Terry Malloy that he became Terry Malloy, and Malloy's feelings, his loyalty towards his brother Charlie, his feelings towards the murder victim's sister, are just conveyed so perfectly by Brando. Truly a tour de force performance which few other actors have ever been able to match, let alone exceed.

- Although Brando did get the part, Frank Sinatra was originally set to play Terry Malloy. Not to trash Sinatra's acting, but if he was Terry Malloy, let's just say this movie is not nearly as revered as it is today. In fact, I really can't think of any other actor that would have been better as Malloy than Brando, and the movie wouldn't have been half as good had any other actor played the lead role.

- Even though Brando was as good as it gets, this is not just a one-man show. Karl Malden does an excellent job as Father Berry, a priest that goes out on the docks and tries to convince the longshoremen to stand up and expose the corruption of their union and its leader, "Johnny Friendly". His speech after the death of KO Dugan, a longshoreman who had planned to testify against Friendly, is so powerful and so convincing that it made me want to turn in Friendly myself. Watch it yourself to see the greatness that is Karl Malden:

- Eva Marie Saint also delivers a top notch performance as Edie Doyle, whose brother Joey was murdered by Friendly and his gang. Edie sets out to try and discover the truth behind Joey's death, while at the same time she develops feelings for Terry. Saint does an excellent job in conveying all of Edie's different emotions in a convincing manner. Not bad for someone in their first feature film (although she had done some television work before, so she wasn't a complete neophyte).

- Johnny Friendly (played by Lee J. Cobb) is a real bad man. I wonder why they call him Johnny Friendly? The movie never explained where that name came from. Anyway, Friendly is the leader of the dockworkers union, and generally treats people like crap, doing such things such as forcing people to take loans just so they could work and constantly playing favorites as to who gets to work and what they do on a daily basis. He also has a bunch of crooked deals where he skims a little bit of money off the top of every shipment of merchandise that comes in. Just your typical crook who rose to power and will kill anyone who threatens his power.

- The movie is based on a series of articles written by Malcolm Johnson for the New York Sun, which dealt with corruption, extortion, and other criminal activities taking place on the docks of New York City. The characters of Terry Malloy, Johnny Friendly, and Father Berry were based largely off of actual people. According to Wikipedia, Anthony DiVincenzo, whom the character of Terry Malloy was largely based off of, actually sued and won a settlement due to the similarities between Malloy and DiVencenzo. I'm not 100% sure if that is true, I just found it interesting is all.

- One thing that struck me odd is after the murder of Joey Doyle, his father comes in to work on the docks the very next day, knowing that his union probably had something to do with the murder of his son (he had told Joey to keep quiet about the corruption taking place). I don't know about you, but I doubt I would come in and do back-breaking labor for the man that had a member of my family murdered the day before.

Overall, Ben W. was right. This is a great film that I would recommend to anyone who likes movies. I'll give it a 9 out of 10. Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this post or any ideas for future posts, than share your thoughts and ideas either by leaving me a comment or sending me an e-mail at


  1. I'm glad you liked it. I too thought that speech given by Malden was absolutely amazing. That was probably my favorite part of the movie.

    I would also say that this movie is tied with Godfather 2 and Network as one of the best casts in cinema history. Even the minor characters were so life-like that it felt like I was apart of their union myself.

  2. I would agree that On the Waterfront had one of the best casts ever. I also would nominate The Departed and L.A. Confidental as having casts that were amongst the best in cinema history.