Friday, August 26, 2011

On the Waterfront (1954) (2nd time)

An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses. [imdb]

Nominated for 12 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Elia Kazan (WINNER)
Best Actor: Marlon Brando (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Lee J. Cobb
Best Supporting Actor: Karl Malden
Best Supporting Actor: Rod Steiger
Best Supporting Actress: Eva Marie Saint (WINNER)
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Original Score
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (WINNER)

As I am continuing my Best Picture series, I'm at winner no. 27, On the Waterfront, a film I had already seen a couple of years ago. It remains one of the most talked about Best Picture winners of its era, mostly because of Marlon Brando's iconic performance. I didn't like it that much the 1st time, I thought it was better now, but it definitely has its flaws. I dunno why, but the second part felt a bit flat to me, inconsistent, unsatisfying. I fell there was more potential that needed exploited.

It should be known I'm not a fan of Elia Kazan's personal life-changing testimonies, and how funny it is that he directed this film, a film about unions and such. Where did he get the balls to do this... If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click HERE.

But all of this did not influence my perspective on the film and I did try to be as objective. Talking about direction, it has a lot of great moments, but also some unfortunate choices towards the end, one of which is using a stunt-double in a scene, and we can clearly tell it's not Brando.

The best element of the film is the acting. Brando gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and he did win, being his 4th consecutive nomination. While I admit he has some impressive scenes, and probably is above competition, I don't find it to be one of the best male performances in history - it's just a very good one, but not the one. The supporting men are terrific, all 3 receiving very worthy nominations; Lee J. Cobb is like a 1950s Tony Soprano and he's great at it, while Karl Malden is probably the best of the bunch, playing a very honest determined priest.

Eva Marie Saint won the trophy for this, but I question the choice, as I know at least one other better performance in her category; you can tell she lacked some acting experience. The win for Art Direction is a bit silly, but the Cinematography is quite impressive. The film works nicely, but I didn't find myself to be connected to any of the characters and while it starts great, I feel they could've found a less happy, more believable ending.

My rating for the film: 8/10. I was tempted to go for more, but in my BP lineup I just can't have it above All Quiet on the... or Wings.


  1. Who did you prefer to Eva Marie Saint?

  2. The only 2 others I've seen were the ladies from the AWFUL The High and the Mighty. Claire Trevor had nothing to do with it, but Jan Sterling intrigued me with a flashy almost-deglam performance. That Golden Globe win was no mistake.

    Wrote about the film 2 years ago, here:

  3. It's a fascinating movie that is impossible to consider without discussing Kazan's testimony.

    Oddly the central argument of the film can be read to either support or debase Kazan - is McCarthyism represented by Cobb or the Police?

    Brando's oscar is certainly well deserved, but as you say he's such a great actor he's done better elsewhere.

  4. I think Kazan & the writer guy (with a HUAC history himself) mean to represent Brando and in their vision, the mobsters are the communists. sick :D