In a town run by a mob boss, what can you do to try to change things? how can one man make a difference? What line do you draw between morality and fidelity? “On the Waterfront” attempts to answer these questions through a plot that hops from genre to genre with no gaps in between.
Terry Malloy is a simple man with a hard exterior. He’s a tough guy with no real promise of making anything of himself. He acknowledges this himself to some of his friends and makes comments that his brother Charley got all the brains. But Terry keeps pigeons that he races—he calls them “The Golden Warriors” and in a way he wishes to be like them. Although tough on the outside, Terry wishes that he could fly away, carefree.
Johnny Friendly is the mob boss who runs the waterfront. No one works but who he says can work. He forces some people into poverty and makes others rich. A child from a rough childhood, he’s making sure that he will never go hungry again by stuffing his pockets full of money.
The conflict of the story comes about when a man gets thrown off of a building for going against Mr. Friendly. This happens in the opening scene of the movie and establishes a great moral conflict that boils inside of Terry Malloy.
When a priest shames the community for not standing up and doing the moral right, we enter into the mind of Malloy as he tried to wrestle his own interests with the right thing and then juggling the woman that he has fallen in love with.
Terry Malloy is played by Marlon Brando in an Oscar winning role that ranks in the best according to the AFI. He gives the famous line: “I coulda been a contender.” and I will admit that although it is now cliche it is altogether quite moving.
Eva Marie Saint plays his love interest and the chemistry between them is so fantastic. You have famous on-screen couples like Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable in “Gone With the Wind” and Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in “Titanic” but among these have to be included the couple from “On the Waterfront”. There story is timeless and full of complexity. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they end up together (“Titanic” for instance) but it is a great partnership.
The film itself is a crime drama and a thriller as well as a romance and a movie about conscience. Can average people make a difference? I certainly hope so and I believe so, but that doesn’t make it true.
The sets of the film reminded me of “West Side Story” minus all the singing children. There were back alleys full of dripping water that added to the noir feel. The big brick buildings make you feel enclosed much like Malloy does.
There is no describing how subtly effective “On the Waterfront” is. On the AFI’s top 100 films of all time, this one grabs the number 8 spot.
It’s a timeless piece of art that still remains very personal.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars