Friday, 8 July 2011

AFI 100 Movies #8 On The Waterfront (1954)

Marlon Brando gives an amazing performance, in what is regarded by many, as his finest screen portrayal.

Brando Plays Terry Malloy (no Doctor Who fans that's Terry Molloy), a dockworker in Hoboken, New Jersey. He lives out a humble existence, unlike his wealthy brother Charlie (Rod Steiger), who is the lawyer to local union leader "Johnny Friendly", a man who has more than a passing acquaintance with the local organised mob.

At the start of the movie, Terry is unwittingly used by Friendly to flush out Joey Doyle, who is preparing to testify against Friendly in court. Doyle as a result is murdered, and Terry under duress from Friendly's henchmen has to agree to keep quiet, or to quote the phrase used in the movie to remain D&D (Deaf & Dumb).

Terry later meets Doyle's sister Edie and there is an instant attraction between them. Edie encourages local priest Father Barry to lead a campaign to bring down the mob.

The film plays out with Terry wrestling with his conscience, being urged on by Father Barry and Edie to do the right thing.

When Johnny Friendly arranges an "accident" for a fellow dockworker planning on testifying against him the pressure on Terry really starts to tell.

As Terry finally comes to terms with what he has to do, Johnny makes a last ditch effort to silence him. He sends Terry's brother Charlie to try and convince him to stay silent, during their conversation Terry recalls his youth when he dreamt of being a championship boxer and, we discover, Friendly had Charlie talk him into taking a dive as he had a lot of money riding on the un-fancied opponent. The emotion in this scene is incredible and a real testament to the acting abilities of Brando and Steiger. This scene is probably the most famous one from the whole film.

With Terry determined to do the right thing and testify, this leaves Charlie in a tricky situation, and events take a downward spiral until the climax at the end.

I loved this film, I had only seen Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, and was keen to see him in a more "everyman" role. I can understand why people raved about his performances, he was brought through the actor's studio system and schooled in the method style of acting. He comes across as tough but reveals an inner tenderness. His acting style captures the reality of the moment, and is naturalistic.

The supporting cast are good, especially Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint as Edie, and Karl Malden as Father Barry.

Highly recommended.


  1. I've only seen Brando in 'The Godfather' and 'Streetcar Named Desire'. Now, I'll have to check out 'On The Waterfront'. Thanks for the review.

  2. Thanks Monica!

    My other half is a Tennessee Williams fanatic, so we have Streetcar on DVD already, which, with my newly found appreciation of Mr Brando might mean I watch it sooner rather than later.