Terry Malloy dreams about being a prize fighter, while tending his pigeons and running errands at the docks for Johnny Friendly, the corrupt boss of the dockers union. Terry witnesses a murder by two of Johnny's thugs, and later meets the dead man's sister and feels responsible for his death. She introduces him to Father Barry, who tries to force him to provide information for the courts that will smash the dock racketeers.
Marlon Brando ... Terry Malloy
Karl Malden ... Father Barry
Lee J. Cobb ... Johnny Friendly
Rod Steiger ... Charley 'the Gent' Malloy
Pat Henning ... Timothy J. 'Kayo' Dugan
Leif Erickson ... Glover
James Westerfield ... Big Mac
Tony Galento ... Truck
Tami Mauriello ... Tullio
John F. Hamilton ... 'Pop' Doyle (as John Hamilton)
John Heldabrand ... Mutt
Rudy Bond ... Moose
Director: Elia Kazan
Codecs: XVid / MP3
Elia Kazan's film is still amazing after 50 years. It's curious how it parallels Kazan's own life in the way the main character, Terry Malloy, ends up naming names to the commission investigating the corruption on the waterfront, the same way the director did in front of the HUAC committee, presided by the evil Senator Joe McCarthy and his henchman, Roy Cohn.
Bud Schulberg's screen play is his best work for the movies. It also helped that Elia Kazan had a free reign over the film, which otherwise could have gone wrong under someone else's direction.
Terry Malloy, as we see him first, is a man without a conscience. He is instrumental in ratting on a fellow longshoreman, who is killed because he knows about the criminal activities on the piers. At the same time, Terry is transformed and ultimately redeems himself because he falls in love with Edie Doyle, the sister of the man that is killed by the mob.
Terry Malloy is a complex character. His own brother Charley, is the right hand man of Johnny Friendly, the union boss. Charley is trying to save Terry. It's clear that Charley is going to be sacrificed because of the way he is acting by the same people he works with. In a way, the death of young Doyle is paid back with Charley's own, an interesting twist of events, when it should have been Terry the one that had ratted in the first place.
Marlon Brando had his best opportunity here. Everyone lavished praise for his performance. I don't know whether it was me, or what, but the way he played Terry, at times, is an enigma. Could it be the way he speaks? The taxi scene, when he speaks in his famous line, his voice sounds so out of character. Maybe it was Brando's take on the character, but in retrospect, he doesn't sound like a New York wise guy.
Eva Marie Saint, whose made her debut in the cinema in this movie, is excellent as the sweet Edie. It's incredible she stays with Terry even though he's been instrumental in the death of her own brother. She is obviously in love with Terry and will do anything for him. Karl Malden's character is also symbolic. He represents the sanity and the salvation for an otherwise horrible person, because Terry up to this point has no conscience and he is resentful for the fact he never got to be somebody when he had a chance in the boxing ring.
Lee J. Cobb, one of the great actors of the American movies gives a detailed performance as Johnny Friendly, the boss of the union local that controlled the waterfront. Rod Steiger, as the crooked brother Charley was amazing. There are a lot of minor roles such as Martin Balsam, who went to bigger and better things. Also, a non speaking Fred Gwynne who is part of Friendly's crew.
This films owes a great deal to the black and white cinematography of Boris Kaufman and to the great musical score of Leonard Bernstein. Was it me, or was this film an inspiration for the music he later composed for West Side Story?
Back in the early 1950's, after a movie had run its course at the theaters, it did not go to video. Nor did it go on prime-time TV, as that concept came up many years later. Instead, they put it on afternoon TV, sometimes around dinner time. Well, that's when I'd come home from high school, and got to enjoy free black and white classics such as "High Noon" and "On the Waterfront".
It made a moviefan of me for life. I remember the effect of "On the Waterfront", as I remember thinking about Terry Malloy in that final scene, "Wow, that guy's got guts! I wish I could be like him." Being just a typical Midwestern teen, I didn't know who Marlon Brando was, but I just was fascinated by this life of these good and bad people, on the tops of buildings and in the cold, wet streets and alleys of this far-away place near the waterfront.
Now, every time I watch it, years later, I still love it. Yes, there is definitely an attempt to make Terry into a Christ-figure at the end. That's no coincidence that he stumbles from having been beaten to a pulp, to walk and carry a hook on his shoulders, to lead others to a better life. (In the book by Budd Schulberg, by the way, Terry disappears after testifying and what is thought to be his body is found floating in a barrel of lime. But he has become a legend on the waterfront.) I love the powerful Elmer Bernstein score (glaring for our present tastes, but back then, exactly what people expected to hear during a drama -- you've got to wonder what a future generation will say about the constant replays of fairly irrelevant pop and rap songs as themes during most movies today, dramatic or comedy).
And being raised in a Catholic home, I found Father Barry to be a great dramatic figure, one of the only times I saw a priest portrayed as a gritty, brave, heroic person, not afraid to mix it up with the common folks in the parish. He smoked, drank and slugged it out. And he was not afraid to die for the right reason. Folks, that's true Christianity at work. And that's powerful.
A classic. A must-see.
* The idea for the film began with an expose series written for The New York Sun by reporter Malcolm Johnson. The 24 articles won him a Pulitzer Prize and were reinforced by the 1948 murder of a New York dock hiring boss which woke America to the killings, graft and extortion that were endemic on the New York waterfront. Budd Schulberg was captivated by the subject matter, devoting years of his life to absorbing everything he could about the milieu. He became a regular fixture on the waterfront, hanging out in West Side Manhattan and Long Island bars, interviewing longshore-union leaders and getting to know the outspoken priests from St Xavier's in Hell's Kitchen.
* "On the Waterfront" is widely known to be an act of expiation on the part of Elia Kazan for naming names to HUAC during the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 50s. What is less widely reported is that Kazan intended it as a direct attack at his former close friend Arthur Miller who had been openly critical of Kazan's actions. Specifically, it was a direct response to Miller's "The Crucible".
* Elia Kazan was loath to do business with Darryl F. Zanuck who had insisted on multiple cuts on "Man on a Tightrope". Fortunately when Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg met with Zanuck, he started talking about widescreen Technicolor pictures. Zanuck eventually came clean and said he didn't like a single thing about it, stating "Who's going to care about a bunch of sweaty longshoremen?" This led Kazan and Schulberg to meet with independent producer Sam Spiegel who set up a deal with Columbia.
* Sam Spiegel sent the script to Marlon Brando and it came back with a refusal. Spiegel however had inserted small pieces of paper between the pages which were still in place when the script was returned to him, indicating that it hadn't been read. While Spiegel continued to work on Brando, Frank Sinatra agreed to take on the role.
* The original title was simply "Waterfront" until Columbia learned that there was a television series by that name.
* The part of Terry Malloy was originally written for John Garfield who died before the film was made.
* According to Brando's friend, Carlo Fiore, and his reminiscences in his book "Bud: The Brando I Knew", it was Fiore who helped make some key decisions about the famous taxi cab scene. It wasn't working to Brando's satisfaction, and the actor was becoming increasingly frustrated at being unable to find the truth about the scene. Fiore told him that having a gun pulled on him by his brother would hit a bullshit note with Terry, and that shocked disbelief that his brother would do such a thing would be the most appropriate response. Brando then went into a stormy conference with Kazan and Spiegel before nailing the scene. Afterwards Kazan drew Fiore aside and said "Next time you get an idea about a scene, bring it to me, not Marlon, okay?" There is some doubt about the veracity of this story however as one look at the original script reveals that shocked surprise was Terry's reaction all along.
* Sam Spiegel forgot to pay for rear-projection equipment, hence the reason why the cab where Brando and Steiger play out the film's most famous scene has blinds.
* As part of his contract, Brando only worked till 4 every day and then he would leave to go see his analyst. Brando's mother had recently died and the conflicted young actor was in therapy to resolve his issues with his parents. Interestingly, for the film's classic scene between Rod Steiger and Brando in the back of the cab, all Steiger's close-ups were filmed after Brando had left for the day, so his lines were read by one of the crew members.
* From a budget of just under $1 million, the film went on to gross ten times its production costs in its initial release.
* Elia Kazan later remarked that the biggest problem he encountered with his actors was getting them on set on time (the weather was so severely cold, most of the actors didn't like to hang around the set for long).
* Arthur Miller was approached by Elia Kazan to write the screenplay, and did so, but later pulled it when the FBI and studio bosses required him to make the gangsters Communists.
* At the hearing, Slim gives his name as "Mladen Sekulovich", which is co-star Karl Malden's real name. Malden always deeply regretted having had to change his real, very ethnic name for the sake of his movie career, and attempted to make amends over the years by making sure his real name always showed up in his movies, one way or another.
* Film debut of Eva Marie Saint - a debut performance that won her the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.
* Johnny Seven's film debut.
* The only film that wasn't a musical for which Leonard Bernstein wrote the incidental music.
* Frank Sinatra was originally considered for the role of Terry Malloy. Elia Kazan approached Sinatra about the part but producer Sam Spiegel favored Marlon Brando for his greater pulling power at the box office.
* According to Arthur Miller in his autobiography "Timebends", he had written a screenplay dealing with corruption on the New York waterfront called "The Hook". Elia Kazan had agreed to direct it, and in 1951 they went to see Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures about making the picture. Cohn agreed in principle to make "The Hook", but his minions were troubled by the portrayal of corrupt union officials. When Cohn asked that the antagonists of the script be changed to Communists, Miller refused. Cohn sent Miller a letter telling him it was interesting that he had resisted Columbia's desire to make the movie pro-American. This film, which did include corrupt union officials, was based on articles by Malcolm Johnson. Kazan asked Miller to write the script, but he declined due to his disenchantment with Kazan's friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Budd Schulberg, a fellow HUAC informer, developed the story and wrote the script. The movie was produced by Sam Spiegel and distributed by Columbia, which had turned down "The Hook".
* Marlon Brando did not initially want the role of Terry Malloy after producer Sam Spiegel offered it to him because he was disgusted with Elia Kazan's friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Spiegel, who had originally offered the role to Hoboken native Frank Sinatra, who had enthusiastically accepted, then tried to interest Montgomery Clift in the part. Spiegel wanted a bigger box-office attraction than Sinatra, who eventually filed a lawsuit against Spiegel for breach of contract when Brando did sign for the part.
* The taxicab scene between Terry and Charlie, one of the most famous scenes in the cinema, was not improvised, as Marlon Brando claimed in his autobiography. When Brando did initially improvise during the shooting of the scene, and Rod Steiger followed his lead, Kazan yelled, "Stop the shit, Buddy!" to Brando, using his nickname. The two actors stuck to Budd Schulberg's script after that.
* Marlon Brando objected to certain aspects in the famous taxicab scene. When filming began, Brando began to improvise some dialogue, surprising Rod Steiger. After a while, Elia Kazan told Brando to "knock it off". The problem Brando had with the scene, as he explained to screenwriter Budd Schulberg and Kazan, was that he felt he (as Terry Malloy) would have difficulty trying to talk reasonably with his brother (played by Steiger) with a gun at his ribs. At this, Kazan agreed and told Brando to improvise. Kazan maintained that he did not direct Brando nor Steiger in this scene, he simply stood back and let the two actors direct themselves.
* Marlon Brando was paid $100,000, Elia Kazan received $100,000 plus 25% of the box office.
* The script was originally turned down by Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox on the grounds that the gritty drama didn't fit well with the policy at the time of creating lavish productions for the studio's Cinemascope format.
* Marlon Brando's Oscar for Best Actor was either lost or stolen. The award did show up later when Brando was contacted by a London auction house, intending to sell the item.
* Tony Galento, Tami Mauriello and Abe Simon, who play Johnny Friendly's heavies, were all former professional boxers and opponents of Joe Louis for the heavyweight world title. Simon fought the Brown Bomber twice and was knocked out in Round 13 in the first fight and Round 6 in the second. Galento and Mauriello fought Louis once apiece and shared similar fates. Galento was kayoed in Round 4 and Mauriello in Round 1.
* The scene where Eva Marie Saint drops her glove and Marlon Brando picks it up and puts it on his hand was unplanned. Saint dropped her glove accidentally in rehearsal and Brando improvised the rest. Elia Kazan loved the new business and asked them to repeat it for the take.
* Grace Kelly turned down the role of Edie Doyle, deciding to make Rear Window (1954) instead.
* Many real longshoremen from Hoboken, New Jersey were used as extras.
* The real-life model for the film's Johnny Friendly character (played by Lee J. Cobb) was International Longshoremen's Association boss Michael Clemente (Johnny Friendly also has aspects of former Murder Inc. head Albert Anastasia, who was a top enforcer for the crime family that ran the Hoboken docks, the Luciano--later Genovese--family). In 1979 Clemente and other members of the Genovese family were indicted for corruption and racketeering on the New York waterfront.
* In 1955, screenwriter Budd Schulberg -- who won an Oscar for his screenplay -- published his novel "Waterfront", which focuses on the causes of waterfront corruption and elucidates the involvement of the shipping companies, the mayor's office, police, and the church.
* Shortly after the film's debut in 1954, the AFL-CIO expelled the East Coast longshoremen's union because it was still run by the mob.
* In 1955, Anthony "Tony Mike" de Vincenzo filed a lawsuit against Columbia Pictures because Terry Malloy (the character played by Marlon Brando) seemed to have been based on him, who was known as a whistle-blower against the corrupt International Longshoremen's Association union. He won a small out-of-court settlement.
* When Elia Kazan and his original screenwriter Arthur Miller originally showed the script to Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn, Columbia executives objected to the script as being "atni-union", as they feared union retaliation. Cohn recommended that union officials be changed to communists.
* The leading characters were based on real people: Terry Malloy was based on longshoreman and whistle-blower Anthony De Vincenzo; Father Barry was based on waterfront priest John M. Corridan; Johnny Friendly was based on mobster Albert Anastasia.
* Most of the solo shots of Rod Steiger during the famous taxicab scene were done after Marlon Brando had left for the day. Steiger was deeply hurt and annoyed at Brando's apparent rudeness, but used these emotions to add to his performance.
* The shooting schedule occasionally had to be worked around Marlon Brando's appointments with his psychiatrist in Manhattan.
* Was one of the first films named to the National Film Preservation Board's National Film Registry in 1989.
* Elia Kazan, in his autobiography "A Life", says that the choice of an actress to play Edie Doyle was narrowed down to Elizabeth Montgomery and Eva Marie Saint. Although Montgomery was fine in her screen test, there was something well-bred about her that Kazan thought would not be becoming for Edie, who was raised on the waterfront in Hoboken, NJ. He gave the part to Saint, and she went on to win cinematic immortality, and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, in the part.
* Although the part of Edie Doyle properly is a lead, producer Sam Spiegel listed Eva Marie Saint as a Supporting Actress in the hopes of getting her a nomination. The ploy worked, and she won the Oscar.
* The DVD version of the film has a Special Features section which shows some of the original promotional posters which state that the film is about "the redemption of Terry Malone". Marlon Brando's character is now named Terry Malloy.
* The role of Terry's brother Charley was originally offered to Lawrence Tierney. Tierney asked for too much money so the role went to Rod Steiger who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.
* Selected as number 8 on AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIES
* The Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) line, "You don't understand. I could've had class. I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody instead of a bum, which I am." was selected at No. 3 on American Film Institute's (AFI) 100 YEARS..100 QUOTES.
* In his biography of Elia Kazan, Richard Schickel describes how Kazan used a ploy to entice Marlon Brando to do the movie. He had Karl Malden direct a scene from the film with an up-and-coming fellow actor from the Actors Studio playing the Terry Malloy lead role. They figured the competitive Brando would not be eager to see such a major role handed to some new screen heartthrob. The ploy worked, especially since the competition had come in the form of a guy named Paul Newman.
* In early drafts of the Budd Schulberg script, the Terry Malloy character was not an ex-pug dockworker but a cynical investigative reporter, as well as an older, divorced man.
* Marlon Brando's performance as Terry Malloy is ranked #2 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
* The line "You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda be a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." was ranked at number three in the American Film Institute's top 100 memorable quotes.
* Roger Donoghue (born 11/20/30 Yonkers, NY - died 8/20/06 Greenport, NY) was the prizefighter who Budd Schulberg credited with partly inspiring the famous line of Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), "I coulda been a contender". He was Brando's trainer for the film. He came up with the idea of putting little plastic tubes in Brando's nose to represent scar tissue.
* Debut of Michael V. Gazzo.
* Debut of Pat Hingle.
* In the scene where Terry (Marlon Brando) and Edie (Eva Marie Saint) are talking on the rooftop of Terry's apartment building, after he finds his pigeons killed, Terry looks off to his left, with the next shot (showing what he's looking at) of the Hudson River and Manhattan in the distance. In that shot, a large ocean liner is seen moving down the Hudson on its way out to sea. The ship is the then new Italian liner Andrea Doria, a little more than two years before it was sunk in a collision with the Swedish liner Stockholm off Martha's Vineyard.
* The movie's line "I coulda been a contender." was voted as the #7 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
* Debut of Fred Gwynne.
* Near the movie's beginning, it's amusing to see character actor James Westerfield, playing Big Mac, calling out names of men selected to work, and paying tribute to himself by yelling, "Westerfield."
* In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #19 Greatest Movie of All Time.