On The Waterfront

Here’s a film that deserves the praise that has been heaped upon it by successive generations of film fans. Elia Kazan’s tightly-wound dockland morality tale sucks you in with its opening exchanges and never lets up. For the next hour-and-a-half Marlon Brando’s wounded puppy dog/has-been ex-boxer Terry Malloy wrestles with his conscience as his own involvement with the mob (headed up by Lee J Cobb’s bullying gangster) leads to the death of fellow dockers and family members, but it’s never wearying or tiring and despite some terrible behaviour Malloy – a simple-minded guy – has our sympathy throughout. Brando’s performance has rightly been acknowledged as one of the greatest American turns of all time; he was more-than-ably supported by Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger and Cobb, all of whom either won or were nominated for an Academy Award (Brando’s statuette was stolen after he started using it to prop open his front door, which is perhaps the earliest sign we have of the actor’s fairly non-plussed – and occasionally hostile – relationship with the Academy). It’s noirish edges are softened by Kazan, which ensured it attracted a wider audience, though not by Budd Schulberg’s screenplay or Boris Kaufman’s stark, black and white cinematography; the superb script by Budd Schulberg tosses out great line after great line towards the viewer as if the supply is inexhaustible. (*****)