Length: 108 minutes
"On the Waterfront" (1954) won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director (Elia Kazan), and the acting in the movie is at such a high level that five actors (Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Lee J. Cobb) received Oscar nominations for their performances. The film tells a story of love and redemption set against the gritty backdrop of labor union corruption and violence. I found myself completely enthralled while watching this movie on Columbia TriStar DVD, and the DVD's excellent special features have further enhanced my enjoyment of this great American classic.
Terry Malloy (Brando) works as a longshoreman in Hoboken, New Jersey. Terry gets easy jobs, partly because he's a personal favorite of local mobster union boss Johnny Friendly (Cobb), and partly because his older brother Charley (Steiger) is Johnny's right-hand man. As the movie opens, Terry does a small favor for Johnny, only to belatedly realize that he's unwittingly become involved in the murder of a longshoreman who was ready to cooperate with the Waterfront Crime Commission.
Terry then meets Edie (Saint), the sister of the murdered longshoreman, and he begins to fall in love with her. Also, Terry and some of the other longshoremen start to be influenced by a priest (Malden), who urges them to testify before the Crime Commission. Soon Terry gets swept up in the tide of events, and he must make some difficult decisions.
As the story in "On the Waterfront" unfolds, we learn that Terry was once an up-and-coming professional boxer, but his career ended on a bad note when, acting on orders from Charley and Johnny, he took a dive at Madison Square Garden. This is the background to one of the best-acted scenes in all of cinema, where Terry and his brother Charley reach a major crossroads in their lives as they talk in the back of a taxicab, and Terry laments to Charley, "I coulda been a contender." I really loved the DVD featurette "Contender: Mastering the Method," where a number of people comment on this famous scene.
The DVD contains an interesting eleven-minute interview with director Elia Kazan, who reminisces about shooting on the Hoboken docks and working with writer Budd Schulberg and producer Sam Spiegel. Kazan remarks that he thinks the best scenes in the movie are those with Brando and Saint alone together, and for me those scenes sometimes approach the sublime.
The DVD contains a commentary track that features a breezy, but informative, conversation between "Time" film critic Richard Schickel and Kazan biographer Jeff Young. In their discussion, they speak only briefly about Kazan's controversial testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in which he named names, and I was a little disappointed that the DVD doesn't cover this topic in more depth. But the important thing is that "On the Waterfront" is a great movie, no matter what motives Kazan may have had in making it.
Selected Special Features on the DVD:
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