Film Review: On The Waterfront – 8.5/10

“You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money…!’

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I recently forbade my wife from watching Dunkirk before she had seen Saving Private Ryan for reasons that I can’t fully explain. It was something to do with context and legacy, I don’t remember, it sounded plausible at the time. As it turns out, watching all the Rocky films before I had seen On The Waterfront makes me a hypocrite, a semi literate, slightly overweight hypocrite. A hippocrit? Perhaps…

On The Waterfront isn’t actually a boxing film of course but Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy certainly shares some DNA with Rocky Balboa. They are both bums who work as hired muscle. They both overcome extreme adversity and self doubt to become the champ of their own particular arena.

Anyway, I digress. You can’t really mention On The Waterfront without talking about that Brando speech of course. If you have never seen Brando’s magnetic turn as Terry Malloy then you should at least seek out the I coulda been a contender scene. It is so affecting and genuine that I found myself going back and re-watching the scene over and over. It is no wonder the phrase has entered the popular lexicon so ubiquitously.

It isn’t all about Brando though, On The Waterfront is very much a team effort. Lee J. Cobb struts and snarls like a lion as crooked union leader Johnny Friendly, Karl Malden embodies what it is to be a good man as the crusading Father Berry and a star-is-born debut performance from Eva Marie Saint as Brando’s wide eyed love interest rounds of a talented group. Director Elia Kazan ties it all together while Budd Schulberg’s legendary knock out script hits as hard in the heart as it does in the head.

On The Waterfront contains one of the best performances ever from Marlon Brando but it isn’t just a Brando vehicle, it is a cinematic masterpiece in its own right that still has the power to thrill after nearly 65 years. An astounding film.


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