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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 9.21%
Average: 2.63%
Pretty Bad: 3.95%
Total Crap: 6.58%

2 reviews, 64 user ratings

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On The Waterfront
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jay Seaver

"The things a good woman will make you do."
5 stars

Ten minutes' difference in getting out of work, and this is a completely different review, because it means I catch the train instead of the bus, I reach Kendall Square an hour earlier, meeting up with L plenty early enough to take in the preview we had passes for. Instead, I take three buses and a subway, even after it's clear things aren't going to break just right, because I at least owe her an explanation.

It's a little like that for Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. He's made some bad decisions, and the easiest thing might be just to do nothing, but there's a girl, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), and she deserves something. Of course, she's got a dead brother, not just an hour in bitter-cold weather. She knows why her brother's dead, too - he talked to the police about the corruption in the longshoremans' union - so she doesn't need an explanation. She wants action.

In the fifty years since On the Waterfront was first released, perceptions have changed. Marlon Brando went from a working-class, ruggedly-handsome leading man to a bizarre, corpulent eccentric (but without the outsider-genius rep of Orson Welles). Organized crime's influence on labor unions has gone from being something known but unsaid to black comedy to the kind of stereotype that one awkwardly apologizes for being aware of. Malloy often speaks in a peculiar argot (at least, peculiar to a middle-class guy in 2004), and Edie is remarked upon for studying to be a teacher. Lesser movies may age poorly because of such things that root them to a specific time or place, but the ones that endure don't show their age. On the Waterfront is still the
product of a specific time, but it's still young and vital, despite the decades between its time and our own.

Part of the reason for this is that director Elia Kazan never sets out to shock his audience. The corruption of the union isn't surprising in the least; you get the impression that the Crime Commission has been looking for a way to prove something everyone knows is true for a while. When the mob moves to murderously protect its interests, there's no great amount of suspense; that these threats of exposure are eliminated is to be expected. Kazan and company are simply telling a story, and although it's a ripped-from-the-headlines social justice story (literally; Budd Schulberg's script is credited as being suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson), it isn't an exposť of a corrupt system, but rather a story about the person who stood up.

Whistle-blowers like Terry Malloy are popular subjects, of course, especially for biopics. Even if Malloy isn't based on any specific individual, though, he comes off as more real than many of those pictures' subjects. He captures a lot of basic insecurities - potential he knows he hasn't lived up to, specific chances he's missed, a girl who's out of his league (something he's loath to admit exists in the first place). He's afraid to bring down a system that he knows is corrupt and wrong, which has hurt him specifically, both because he fears reprisal and because his brother is part of it. He's not that smart - it takes him a while to work all this out, despite how his book-smart maybe-girlfriend implores him. He is, however, able to grasp his importance as a symbol toward the end, even if Edie doesn't or doesn't want to.

Modern moviegoers used to location shooting and exact recreations may smirk at the production values, but may not. Boris Kaufman's black-and-white photography is active, always pointing at exactly what the audience needs to see. The sets describe the places they represent well: Cramped living quarters, or work areas overfilled with people. Characters look grimy, or too slick, or pure and virginal almost (but not quite) to the point of exaggeration.

On the Waterfront has a boatload of awards, and it's earned them. The new print struck for the anniversary is sharp. My only real complaint is that the cartoon Landmark attached to it was just as awful as the feature was good.

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originally posted: 12/28/04 03:40:34
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User Comments

4/27/16 Ken Powerful movie. Brando is superb. 5 stars
12/31/11 Robert Smith One-stop-shop for learning the craft... 5 stars
7/23/10 RLan I know this goes against how most critics feel, but I thought this movie was average. 3 stars
6/01/10 User Name One word: Brando. Now go watch it. 5 stars
1/28/08 proper amateur film critic One of the truly great American movies of the 1950's 5 stars
10/11/07 tiffany AWESOME 4 stars
10/08/07 mr.mike great on all counts 5 stars
7/21/07 acton movie fan had atmosphere and brando but little else 2 stars
6/13/07 olias my all time favourite film.riveting.brando's acting is the greatest in cinema 5 stars
4/22/07 Dove This movie is great! I got into it fast. 5 stars
2/06/07 MP Bartley Dated somewhat, but still powerful and one of the best acted films ever. 4 stars
1/13/07 Eli Y'all are STUPID CRACKWHORES, this film's a CLASSIC. You can't appreciate good movies!!! 5 stars
1/07/07 R.W.Welch Goes a little Hollywood at the end. Otherwise, a real contenduh. 5 stars
12/07/06 David Cohen Brando's best screen performance (and that is saying something), highlights union hypocrisy 5 stars
6/30/05 Bercana Best movie I've ever seen 5 stars
3/29/05 John YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWN 1 stars
2/28/05 ZenCow Brandon Brando shines sometimes but there's no denying that he's in a crappy movie. 1 stars
2/24/05 Amy It's only in black and white... Boooooring... 2 stars
2/22/05 A movie about a rat, made by a rat for other rats. Bjorn 1 stars
2/19/05 Angolmois Elia Kazan was and always will be a weasel. 1 stars
12/29/04 Tom Ciorciari Watching Brando is watching acting incarnate 5 stars
5/17/04 Gruntty Hey let's give it 2 stars also! 2 stars
4/01/04 sansho Fine acting, but an utterly deplorable excuse for the director's betrayal. 1 stars
3/06/04 Don C Excellent for that time period 5 stars
2/27/04 Betty White Awesome. 5 stars
1/14/04 Lydia I love Brando in this one!!! 5 stars
12/06/03 john everything you may have heard about Brando in this movie is true - he is that good! 5 stars
10/19/03 Mason3 Mason2 is an idiot. 5 stars
12/08/02 moviemachine Marlon Brando at his finest!!! 5 stars
11/21/02 Mason Brando is a GOD 5 stars
11/05/02 Tuna Hematoma Excellent movie... music however was very cliche, but aside from that, excellence! 4 stars
8/17/02 WHS Brando... 5 stars
6/12/02 Hulahula Very close to a 5 star if it weren't for the female co-star that TRIED to act. 4 stars
6/03/02 Poumpus and better than you Great film with extraoridary performances 5 stars
5/30/02 <<<^^^>>> This is my all time fave, Brando was incredible in it! 5 stars
5/25/02 Charles Tatum Very slow, great cast 4 stars
5/21/02 Jorge It's the best movie i've ever seen in my life. 5 stars
5/16/02 Kelly Brando gives the best performace ever given by a screen actor in history 5 stars
4/20/02 summer next to the godfather, the best film of all time 5 stars
4/04/02 :) 'TERRY! TERRY!' 5 stars
3/30/02 Paul Meade Great Cast, Rod Stieger and Brando at their best. 5 stars
3/25/02 Kell Brando was a good looking fellow 200 pounds ago...oh yea the movie is spectacular! 5 stars
12/18/01 Jon Shaw A great performance by Brando and other mbrs of the cst. Great storyline yet slow at times. 4 stars
12/11/01 melissa this is an excellent film, if you like brando see 'guys and dolls' 5 stars
12/01/01 Andrew Carden I Thought It Was Dull, but The Performances Were Really Good. 3 stars
9/02/01 romina very good movie 5 stars
8/07/01 E-Funk This movie is wonderful. Watch this even if you don't enjoy Brando, you will after this. 5 stars
7/30/01 Henry Ginsberg Extreemly moving .A true classic . 5 stars
7/16/01 Angie Maniaci It is a great adventure flick from the 1950s; I absolutely love it. 5 stars
3/07/01 Mike A classic for good reason! 5 stars
11/14/00 Amanda Brando is brilliant. Malden is good. Marie-Saint gave a rememberable screen debut 5 stars
10/24/00 Mambo This film has everything! Brando's acting is the finest ever committed to celluloid! 5 stars
10/17/00 Mike Christie The best movie & the best acting--ever! 5 stars
10/06/00 Wannabe A great goddamn movie. Great goddamn everything. I will never forget it. 5 stars
9/20/00 Jeff Elia Kazan's best 5 stars
4/04/00 b awesome 5 stars
3/29/00 Andrew Devine Brando, Cobb, and Malden: Three of the most poignant and influential performences ever. 5 stars
3/08/00 Kristen Fabulously Brilliant! 5 stars
11/28/99 k absolutely beyond words! 5 stars
11/21/99 corrine H. Great movie! 5 stars
10/28/99 M.N.KHAN Great Film, a perfect 10. A milestone accomplished on celluloid. Brando is brilliant 5 stars
10/12/99 Jamie Hanson Classic 4 stars
12/31/98 Disgruntled Mailman Terry to Edie"Wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you! 5 stars
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  28-Jul-1954 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2001

  N/A (PG)

  28-Jul-1954 (PG)

Directed by
  Elia Kazan

Written by
  Malcolm Johnson

  Marlon Brando
  Karl Malden
  Lee J. Cobb
  Rod Steiger
  Pat Henning
  Leif Erickson

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