6 February 2007 | blanche-2
Magnificent statement about the power of one
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke) The evil in 1954's "On the Waterfront" is the union bosses, brilliantly portrayed by Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger and their thugs. They are allowed to do business because of the fright, intimidation, and passiveness of an entire group of longshoremen, who either work or don't while the big shots take kickbacks and steal from them. Then Joey Doyle, who had agreed to testify against the union bosses, is set up by a clueless Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) and thrown off of a roof. His sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) is determined to find out what happened. But no one will talk. She shames Father Barry (Karl Malden) into taking more of an interest in what is happening on the docks, and he does. Still, no one's talking. Terry falls in love with Edie but still can't do the right thing. Another man is killed. When the killing finally affects Terry, he realizes something has to change.
"On the Waterfront" is one of the most amazing films ever made, directed by the great Elia Kazan. There were three Oscar nominations (Malden, Cobb and Steiger) in the Best Supporting Actor category, and the film took home the top acting awards, Kazan as director, and best film, best screenplay, best editing, best cinematography, best art direction. There was a nomination for Leonard Bernstein's fantastic score, and it's difficult to understand how he could have lost the award. This is the only film for which he wrote incidental music. It is fantastic, particularly in the tender moments between Terry and Edie.
"On the Waterfront" has the classic performance of Marlon Brando, a man who is loyal to his brother Charlie (Steiger) even though Charlie ruined Terry's fight career and now is part of the union corruption. Brando is sensational as a tortured young man (based on whistle-blower Anthony DiVincenzo) who knows what he should do, but the price is too high. It's his love of Edie that gives him a conscience. She's from another world and hasn't been jaded by life yet. It's impossible to believe that this role was offered to Grace Kelly, but it was. Why Kazan thought her cold beauty and finishing school accent would have fit into this scenario is beyond me. Saint is perfect - warm, strong, gentle and most importantly, comes off as the kind of girl who lives in a blue collar neighborhood.
Lee J. Cobb as Johnny Friendly (based on real-life mobster Albert Anastasia) gives a bombastic, violent, and scary performance; Karl Malden is letter-perfect as the priest who fights for Terry's soul; and Steiger is excellent as Charlie, a weak man who has taken advantage of his brother to feather his own nest. Karl Malden's character of Father Barry was based on the real-life "waterfront priest," Father John M. Corridan, who operated a Roman Catholic labor school on the west side of Manhattan. Father Corridan was interviewed by screenwriter Budd Schulberg.
The saddest thing in the film is the attitude of the young boy who helps Terry take care of Joey's pigeons. He's already been inculcated with the "D&D" (deaf and dumb) policy of the longshoremen.
The cloudy, rich atmosphere of the story is captured by the Hoboken, New Jersey locations - although this is a fictionalized version of events on the New York waterfront.
The end of "Raging Bull" is a homage to "On the Waterfront." The end of "On the Waterfront" will give you goosebumps.
Evil only triumphs when good men do nothing. When those same men stand up for what they believe in, they show evil for what it really is - cheap, lousy, and dirty.