On the Waterfront

Film, Drama
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 out of 5 stars
(1user review)
22 Love It
Save it
On the Waterfront

Superb performances (none more so than Brando as Terry Malloy, the ex-boxer unwittingly entangled in corrupt union politics), a memorably colourful script by Budd Schulberg, and a sure control of atmosphere make this account of Brando's struggles against gangster Cobb's hold over the New York longshoremen's union powerful stuff. It is undermined, however, by both the religious symbolism (that turns Malloy not into a Judas but a Christ figure) and the embarrassing special pleading on behalf of informers, deriving presumably from the fact that Kazan and Schulberg named names during the McCarthy witch-hunts. Politics apart, though, it's pretty electrifying.

By: GA

Release details

Duration: 108 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenwriter: Budd Schulberg
Cast: Rod Steiger
Marlon Brando
Pat Henning
Karl Malden
Leif Erickson
John Heldabrand
Eva Marie Saint
John Hamilton
Martin Balsam
Lee J Cobb
Rudy Bond
James Westerfield

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
1 person listening
Grace I

This is simply one of the best films ever made and one of the best ways to understand America during the Cold War and the McCarthy hearings. The film has a deeper meaning if you know the history of brilliant theatre and film director Elia Kazan (who made Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams mainstream playwrights on Broadway). After Kazan named names to HUAC (he argued later that he had been threatened with the loss of his naturalised US citizenship and only named those who had already been named), many of the actors, directors and writers of the Group Theatre, whom he had championed in Hollywood, shunned him. So this story of the 'canary' Terry Molloy, who is forced to name names of corrupt racketeers to a government commission due to his 'conscience' is a thinly veiled response of the film's director Kazan to his behaviour with HUAC. 

But even without this context, Marlon Brando's exquisite and deeply moving performance as Terry, with a beautifully natural Eva Marie Saint as his love interest Edie, and his rightfully famous scene in the back of a taxi with Rod Steiger as his corrupt brother Charley still mesmerise. Watch out for Brando's first scene with Saint on the playground when he improvises by grabbing her glove, flustering her and adding a lovely connection between their characters. This film is full of such little moments and even though some of the film may not have aged well, the final scene on the docks is stunning. 

Kazan eventually rehabilitated himself, at least with Arthur Miller, and remained a powerful figure with Actor's Studio disciples such as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Karl Malden (who plays a priest in this film), although Kazan's legacy is still controversial.