Title: On The Waterfront
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Elia Kazan
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Eva Marie Saint
Lee J. Cobb
John F. Hamilton
This Kazan-Brando collaboration (after A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, 1951 9/10) finally granted both an Oscar along with a sweeping 8 wins including BEST PICTURE out of 12 nominations. The prestige of this monochromic magnum opus is merely indisputable so as to my sheer expectation could not be more intrigued.
It is a forthright story, a bum longshoreman’s awakening to his conscience and takes on a venal union boss and his heavy minions. There are several incentives for his self-morphing into a better person, his love to a girl who in turn elicits his true grit, the demise of his brother (a pretty slow-witted move to put the final nail in the coffin to urge a man at his wits’ end to go to the opposite of the line), and a religious influence from a virtuous priest, whose righteous homily is spirit-lifting but cannot deliver the huddled mass from numb apathy. Against the grain, it is also an indictment of the repressed workers who is suffer from crowd conformity psychology and cowardice, the most abhorrent thing is one of the sidekick child massacres all the pigeons just to demonstrate an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth when Brando finally musters his courage to be a key witness in a murder case against the boss, it feels blatantly inexplicable and rather far-fetched. The same can be referred to the ending, a battered-up Brando (with horrible bloodstain make-up) struggles to stand up and walk towards the gate so rest of the longshoremen can be convinced that they should follow suit and disregard whatever reasons hold them back. It is a too-well calculated victory.
Bad-mouthing about some uneasiness while watching this picture aside, Brando emanates a tremendous air of competence as the young loafer stranded in the underbelly of the dock, his two-hander with Eva Marie Saint comes well-handled, alternately romantic and endangered, and Saint’s film debut is also a fortuitous triumph for her, a borderline leading part nabbed BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS trophy. Wondrously, the film also holds the record of securing three slots as BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR nominees (but no win), Kazan’s longtime workmate Malden emotes a paragon crime-defender as the priest, J. Cobb is the pure evil as the ringleader while his henchmen are completely imbecile and a young Steiger is the in-between as the ill-fated brother, an ambiguous image betrays great empathy in the illustrious conversing scenes inside the taxi with Brando.
ON THE WATERFRONT also manifests Kazan’s top-notch deployment of the camera, with DP Boris Kaufman, the close-ups and fixated angle shots run fluently without tampering the rhythm of its grim reality. Leonard Bernstein’s accompanying score adheres firmly to the vascular impulse of the predictable diegesis. Thus, it is a fine piece of filmmaking and reminisces of the Golden Age with a touch of working-class bashing which may leave a small number of its modern audience nonplussed.