For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!
“On the Waterfront”– may be my biggest surprise on the list yet. I did not want to watch this film- Marlon Brando (while a great actor) is not my favorite, and it was billed as a classic morality tale. Oh, the drama. I was so wrong. This movie is amazing. It is about a has been boxer, (admittedly not a good start), and current dock worker, Terry Malloy (Brando), who experiences a crisis of conscience while working for mobbed-up union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb, 12 Angry Men). Terry turns a blind eye when Friendly’s thugs kill a fellow dockworker, Joey, to keep him from testifying in a corruption case because of the state of things, but has second thoughts when the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint) urges him to take a stand.
This film is the perfect storm of directing, writing, and a stellar ensemble cast. The Director, Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden) knew a bit about peers shunning someone. He was among the first to cooperate with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1952, which led to the blacklisting that ruined many careers. He has publicly stated that he has no regrets for that action- at the time he saw himself as a noble informer, fighting communism. In this film he wanted to show that an informer could be heroic. With the help of screenwriter Budd Schulberg, Kazan crafted his artistic response to his critics.
The story is simple and well told. But it is the actors that really make it. It was great to see Eva Saint Claire in another role- she was fantastic in the #55 film on the list, ‘North by Northwest‘ opposite Cary Grant. In On the Waterfront, opposite Brando’s simple and brash Terry, Saint’s performance appears hopeful, yet aware of the reality that surrounds them. Brando’s performance in this film has been hailed as one of the best in a film- ever. I believe it too- every line is delivered as though it was ingrained in his character. Each emotion and movement appear as though they come from his character’s personal experience. Rounding out the stellar cast is Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night), and Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire, Patton, Pollyanna).
In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns: