Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb
Director: Elia Kazan
Running Time: 105 mins
On The Waterfront is an American film about a young member of the New York waterfront union whose conscience catches up with him and persuades him to turn against the corrupt bosses of the workers’ union.
This is an absolute classic, and rightly so. A film with top-notch performances, progressive directing, great dialogue and a story that goes a bit wayward from the 1950s Hollywood formula to make for thrills and spills all the way through.
This film is largely lauded for Marlon Brando’s central performance, described by many as the greatest performance of all time. Now, I’m not quite in that opinion, however there’s no doubting Brando’s brilliance here. He may play a bit of a villain at the beginning, but his passionate performance makes you really believe his transformation into the honest man who begins to turn on the mob bosses on the waterfront.
That’s all nicely shown in the classic quote: ‘I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum…’. That quote perfectly sums up the passion of both the character and Brando’s performance, which is absolutely brilliant to see on screen throughout.
One of the other reasons that this is an impressive picture is that it does break away from the Hollywood formula of the 1950s, which was, it’s fair to say, a little romantic. Sure, there’s a romance here, and it plays a big role, but what this film does so well is that it keeps it personal enough to not massively interfere with the more thrilling crime story.
Ultimately, whilst the romance is passionate and intriguing, it’s still the principal plot that excites you, and the film knows that, leaving that as the main focus right up to the end.
Elia Kazan’s direction also deserves some great credit. I would say that this was probably the best step forward in directing and cinematographic techniques since 1941’s Citizen Kane. Kazan uses fast cuts and somewhat more aggressive style in this film to heighten the stakes and increase the excitement, and it works really well, and it’s definitely something to be praised as forward-thinking and very original, especially amidst the still conservative Hollywood backdrop.
Overall, this gets a 7.8 from me, not only because it’s a classic with a lot of cinematic importance, but because it really is an exciting, intriguing film with a genuinely brilliant central performance.