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Oscars Challenge #52: On The Waterfront (1954) Movie Review


On the Waterfront poster

More often than not, films that respect cultural or societal issues should always be significant. This movie was one of the first 25 the Library of Congress selected to be preserved.


I don't know the criteria for choosing a film in the Library of Congress. I think it will be selected if the movie doesn't violate or disrespect specific topics and historical events.


This is one of Marlon Brando's legendary performances. You may have known him from his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, which surprisingly is also a mob movie.


On The Waterfront is a fictional crime drama about a former fighter, Terry Malloy. A corrupt boss, Johnny Friendly, tricked him into leading his friend Joey Doyle into a rooftop. He was shocked when he discovered his friend had been pushed and died. The other dockworkers keep their mouths silent for fear of losing their job. Father Barry, a local priest, advises the workers to stand up and fight for justice. Terry gets entangled when the priest persuades him to testify against Johnny Friendly after another worker is killed. However, he does not want to get involved even after getting subpoenaed. His guilt grows along with his developing feelings for Edie Doyle, Joey's sister.


A film directed by Elia Kazan. Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, and Eva Marie Saint as Terry, Father Barry, Johnny Friendly, and Edie, respectively. This is also Eva Marie Saint's film debut; I think she did wonderfully. It's no wonder why she won the Best Supporting Actress award. This film had 12 nominations and won eight awards. But the star of the show is Marlon Brando. He is one of those actors that you appreciate because of his talent and greatness. He used a term called Method Acting and popularized it. I won't argue if this is the best film acting-wise for Marlon Brando.


The story is not something that will blow you away. For me, it's like a typical crime mob movie that focuses on issues other than the action. The film had some gripping moments that take you to the edge of your seat. What I like most about this classic is the story buildup. It started a little bit slow but went faster as it progressed. The tension, drama, suspense, and action make this film complete. Sometimes movies don't need to exaggerate a specific genre to be great. There are times when a perfect balance is required to make the story unpredictable.


The way the film is shot is like a work of art. The movie uses many high and low-angle shots to depict the problem with society easily. It's brilliant because it feels like you know which perspectives depend on how it's shown.


Another note here is the character development. Terry starts like a naive and easy-to-manipulate kind of guy. He follows orders from the mob because he thinks it is the right thing to do. You can say he is caged like the pigeons he takes care of on the rooftop. But his view changes when he realizes that influential people exploit the waterfront workers.


I feel like the movie is like a microcosm of our society. Its theme is relevant even after almost 70 years since its initial screening.


However, if there is one aspect that this movie elevates, it's the acting. It's the one that drives the characters and the story. If the actors had subpar acting, it would not work.


On The Waterfront may be like a typical crime mob film with complex characters depicting the power structure against different social classes. It is a movie with a relevant story compared to today's standards.


A solid four out of five stars for me.

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