The Stool Pigeon
Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) had been a boxer but now when he isn't running errands for Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the crooked boss of the Dockers' union, he is tending to his pigeons on the roof top. But things start to change when a longshoreman who became a problem for Johnny is murdered and Terry slowly understands that he was unwittingly involved in the murder. It causes Terry to question what he is doing especially when the murdered man's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint) and local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), try to persuade him to talk to the Waterfront Crime Commission about Johnny's organization. But with not only a feeling of loyalty to Johnny but his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) who is part of Johnny's inner circle it leaves Terry feeling conflicted over what to do.
There are days when I ask "Why do I do it to myself? Why do I watch a classic and much loved piece of cinema when there is a chance my opinion will not conform to the norm"? It is the situation I find myself in as I watched "On the Waterfront" for probably the fifth time in my life and still ending up feeling the same way about it as I did after the first time I watched it. That feeling was one of being impressed but not blown away, not lead to feel the need to go and spend the money to get the latest version to add to my collection and earlier versions which I do when a movie truly blows me away.
Now don't get me wrong as "On the Waterfront" is this fascinating drama which to put it simply is all about Terry Malloy and how he begins to feel conflicted by his connections with Johnny Friendly. The scenes which show Johnny's power with his men intimidating those who attend a meeting organized by Father Barry are powerful and it is clear to see that right from the word go Terry is uncomfortable with what happened when he realises he was unwittingly part of a friend's murder, luring him to the roof. You do not need to be an expert in old cinema or a movie buff to follow it on a basic level.
But for movie buffs there is another level which reveals itself due to Elia Kazan having cooperated with the House of Un-American Activities Committee by giving them names of those involved with the Communist Party. As such there is this parallel which can be seen with Terry doing what he feels right when it comes to being asked to give evidence to the Waterfront Crime Commission and what Kazan went through and how he was treated after. Whilst you don't need to know this to enjoy "On the Waterfront" the extra knowledge gives the movie that extra dimension.
Whether or not you known Kazan's personal story his delivery of this story is in truth pretty perfect with some stunning cinematography thanks to Boris Kaufman and a beautiful pacing which never causes it to feel drawn out. But whilst certain aspects of the soundtrack don't work for me the atmosphere is spot on and you can almost smell the smoke, beer and sweat which fills various scenes.
Then there is the acting and lets start by saying what an amazing supporting cast with Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint all delivering above average performances which help make not just the characters come to life but also make the story come to life. When Eve Marie Saint as Edie goes for a drink with Terry the warmth she delivers in being with Terry is spot on but also that controlled aspect of loathing because she knows he is part of the group behind her brother's murder gives it something more.
But of course "On the Waterfront" belongs to Marlon Brando and I have to say it is a fantastic performance as he becomes this character Terry Malloy, a man who has an easy going charm and confidence about him but the movement of a man who can put himself about. But he also brings to life that sense of conflict when it comes to what he feels he should do and those who have been good to him. By the time "On the Waterfront" is over you have forgotten you are watching Brando and feel you ware watching Terry Malloy who just happens to look like Brando
What this all boils down to is that "On the Waterfront" ticks a lot of boxes and is undoubtedly a cinematic classic just for the performance of Marlon Brando let alone anything else. But whilst it is a movie which I can watch again and again it doesn't completely blow me away to keep on buying the latest version.
Tags: Boxing Movies