On the Waterfront (4 of 4)

Netflix Instant Play spoilers*

In 1954 Elia Kazan, the infamous Hollywood director who turned rat during the McC arthy trials, made On the Waterfront. And there are certainly similarities between Kazan, who named names, and his most successful character Terry Malloy who would also name names. Many film historians think of On the Waterfront as Kazan’s apology (or at least justification) of his testimony in the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Of course supposed Hollywood communists are different from real-life gangsters, but Kazan may not have ever seen that.  Staring Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, Lee J. Cobb as Johnny Friendly,  Karl Malden as Father Barry and Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle, the film won 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor and Actress, and Cinematography (Black and White). It was a new form of dramatized social commentary in the depiction of organized crime, and changed movies forever.

On the Waterfront tells the story of the overturning of a mob-controlled  labor union where the waterfront dock workers are getting scraps for hard work while the boss, Johnny Friendly, uses violence and his power as supervisor to steal the earnings of his union employees. And for a while, things are going well for Friendly. He’s living it up with all the money and power he could want.

But when Friendly tricks Malloy, his favorite young kid on the dock, into assisting in the murder of local dock-boy Joey Doyle he learns that he has gone too far, and that Terry Malloy has a conscience with an unbreakable will. A two direction storyline also invests in a priest Father Barry, who comes along side Eva Marie Saint’s character Edie Doyle to help her find her brother Joey’s killer.

Father Barry becomes the fire under the union. He holds a meeting at the church to challenge the dock workers to expose their mob-boss Friendly as the killer. But Friendly shows how truly shameful he can be as he sends his goons to raid the church with led-pipes and wooden clubs.

Father Barry takes things to the police and convinces one brave dock-worker to testify in trial against Friendly. The next day Friendly arranges for him to be killed in a loading accident. And just when it seems all hope of overcoming the mob is lost, Father Barry releases a speech, that I think I will say is one of the greatest Christian moments in movie history. I’m calling it the “Crucifixion Speech.”

Terry Malloy, the uneducated amateur boxer and all around tough-guy, is moved. Absolutely shaken to the core by the public divulgence of the evil on the waterfront. Malloy is pressured from both sides as he slowly begins to see the evil of his long time boss and the good of Father Barry.

Friendly makes a mistake by asking Terry’s brother Charley to either “talk some sense into the boy” or kill him. Charley picks him up with all intention to do as Friendly said, but Terry shames him into staying his hand with one of cinema’s most famous speeches ending with: “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.” Once you see the movie you will always be able to hear Brando delivering these lines.

But Charley’s disobedience angers Friendly, and Charley winds up murdered as well. In a crazy-faced only Marlon Brando could ever pull-it-off rage Terry grabs a pistol and heads to the bar to avenge his brother. Father Barry is there to stop him and convince him to confess his involvement in Joey’s murder and indict Friendly as the killer he is.

After the trial, Terry can’t get work on the docks. And being the strong-willed (and now principled) man he is, he marches straight to Friendly’s front door and demands a confrontation. Then things get climactic as the union workers and the mafia stand face to face on opposing docks as Terry and Friendly box it out.

Saying On the Waterfront is a great film is an understatement. Its 8 Academy Awards are a testament but not a just one. This movie is perfect. The gangster is redeemed through Christian ethics and the powerful conviction of a righteous man. One of the best examples in movies of change and empowerment, and proof there is always hope. It is a beautifully captured, impeccably acted and scripted masterpiece and one of my very favorite films, gangster films or otherwise.

Whose famous speech is better, Father Barry or Terry’s? Is Brando a better gangster here or in The Godfather? Would you have stood up to Friendly? Comment in the sidebar!

<——Over and Up


    • ian
    • March 12th, 2011

    Actually this movie is pretty dated. The whole priest getting bad boy to do right is really cheeseball at it’s best. Nice try tho trying to attempt to make yourself look smart by reviewing this movie. Too bad it failed. Like you obviously do in life.

    • Actually, this film is one I consider to have stood “the test of time” being over 50 years old and still as entertaining as ever. The acting is something that film goers should appreciate regardless of the film’s original date.
      And, as “cheesy” as it may seem to hard-hearted people, priests and many other types of church leaders have helped bring good changes and salvation to millions of peoples lives. Including, and I’d say especially, “bad” people. So I don’t find the films depiction of redemption as tasteless as some who may not realize the churches’ impact or at the very least take it for granted.

      • Good job answering your critic without stooping to his level with invective and insults.

  1. Well done. I want to sit down and see the movie (never have!). You’re going to get me to add Netflix to my budget yet.

    • It is the responsibility of everyone to spend $8.99 a month on Netflix. Consider it education or entertainment money. Netflix is a necessity.

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