ON THE WATERFRONT (66) (second viewing: 59)

Directed by: Elia Kazan (1954)

Starring: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint

The Pitch: A corrupt union's hold on the New Jersey docks is finally broken.

Theo Sez: A major hole in my film-watching credentials finally plugged, so forgive me if I don't actually have a lot to say about this famous movie (except that I didn't like it as much as I thought I would). Brando's noble, powerfully so, though they've done something distractingly prosthetic with his eyes and it's hard to believe his romance with the butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth heroine ("Shouldn't everybody care about everybody else?" she chirps ; "Isn't everybody part of everybody else?") ; nor, come to that, did I realise just how central the truth-telling message is to it (it's okay to rat, it's good for the soul) - all a bit rich, considering Kazan's (and writer Schulberg's) canary-like behaviour at the McCarthy hearings. Impressive as a smooth, heated blend of disparate genres, the 30s gangster film with the 'socially responsible' 50s drama, and of course for its look, not just the lighting but the look of things as they were in 1954 - the bars and parks, tenement roofs and juvenile delinquents ; but Malden's righteousness grates on your nerves, and the crusading seems a little hollow in these possibly more cynical times - you just know the Mob'll only be replaced by equally exploitative 'legitimate' bosses. Probably the first film I've seen where the composer gets such high billing, by the way - right behind the producer and director, a tribute to Mr. Bernstein's ego ; shame his score's so bombastic. [Second viewing, November 2022 (i.e. about 25 years later): Even lower rating, indeed I may even be overrating slightly. Eva Marie Saint is the only aspect of this I find affecting (the lengthy scene where she and Brando end up at the beer bar is excellent); Kazan's staging is predictably robust, but the priest is actively annoying - it makes me furious the way he guilt-trips people with self-righteous blather, knowing it'll get them killed, at no real cost to himself (he doesn't even offer any practical help, e.g. money so they don't have to go back to work after they've testified) - the pro-snitching message remains awkward, the dramatic contortions necessary to arrive at the ending are indeed a bit contorted. "Coulda been a contender" scene is justly famous, but am I the only one to note that they make absolutely no effort to suggest that the car is moving?]