Sunday, August 3, 2008

On the Waterfront [1954]

I've heard a number of references to the film On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando. Most notably, Robert Deniro acts out a famous monologue from it in the movie Raging Bull:

"It wasn't him, Charley, it was you... 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... I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley."

So I finally got around to watching it last night. I'm not in the habit of watching a lot of pre-1980s movies, but I gotta say it tends to be worth the effort. I think the current state of popular American films has really set a low bar. It's a shame that most movies these days are the cinematic equivalent of a Brittany Spears song, so a lot of old movies shine by comparison. "On the Waterfront" is no exception.

It's about workers on a loading dock (longshoremen). Their industry is operated by the mob and the workers are treated badly. Anyone who objects is intimidated or killed off. Marlon Brando's character starts off as one of the dock workers, content with the status quo, but a series of events lead him to stand up to the mob when no one else wants to.

I liked this movie for a bunch of reasons. The acting is really good, if a bit different than modern acting. There are a lot of mundane, but great scenes when people are just walking around and talking, sitting in restaurants, kitchens, standing in the street. The dialogue is excellent and creates great characters. It's all like something out of real life. Shocking, really, that someone might make a movie that seemed realistic... There's no car chases, explosions, or people who get superpowers from a spider bite. It also shows a lot of interesting historical stuff that isn't around anymore, like the culture surrounding racketeering, how Catholic priests functioned in society at that time, etc. Check this movie out, it deserves it's classic status.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It should be realistic, the screenplay was based on a true story and the release of the film co-incided with indictments and court appearances that brought about a rare collision between fact and fiction. The high profile cases collided magnificently with the movie's release making the hard hitting subject matter all the more relevant.
The priest was based on a tough talking anti-corruption Irishman
who fought hard to highlight the plight of the dockers. The central rabble rousing speech he makes comparing the dockers struggle to the crucifiction of Jesus was in fact taken word for word from a speech given to dock workers in real life. The name of the priest escapes me but the T.J English book
'Old Bones And Shallow Graves' goes into much further detail on this amazing story, which includes Hollywood scoffing at the thought of the public being interested in a "bunch of sweaty longshoremen".
The film was, of course an historic box office success and the rest, as they say, is history.