Well, folks, this epic Blogiversary Bash will be drawing to a close this week, but rest assured–there are a few more awesome things still to come! Just you wait. 😉 But for today, I have a sad, sad confession to make: I am not very well-versed in black-and-white classics. I’ve seen some, sure, but there are still so very many that I need to see. Luckily, the film I’m discussing today was one I checked off my list a few years back–all thanks to a film class, actually. We worked our way through a lot of great films in my American Cinema class, but none had quite the impact on me that On the Waterfront did. It’s just so wonderful for so many reasons, and it’s high time I talked about those reasons!
#1: Young Marlon Brando
Sigh. Young Brando is just…perfect. He’s got the handsome thing going for him, of course, but as leading man Terry Malloy he is sweet and flirtatious and so darn charming. Brando won a Best Actor Oscar for this role, and it’s easy to see why–he completely embodies the character, making him such a real, believable person that it is impossible not to love him. At least, it’s impossible for me not to love him.
#2: Feisty Edie
I will say this for older films: sometimes the leading ladies are so useless they drive me crazy. But Eva Marie Saint plays a much more proactive type of gal: Edie. She’s feisty–bound and determined to solve the mystery of her brother’s murder, even if it means putting herself in the line of fire. You go, girl! Oh, and Saint also won an Oscar for this–Best Supporting Actress (why “Supporting,” I’m not sure, but whatever).
#3: Lee J. Cobb
As corrupt dockers’ union boss Johnny Friendly, Lee J. Cobb is pretty great–so great that he, too, was nominated for an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor), though he didn’t win. But you know what’s really cool about seeing Cobb in this? Suddenly realizing that he was in another film I love–The Exorcist! I don’t know why I just made the connection this time I watched it, but he plays Lt. William Kinderman, the man investigating a murder in the film. Who knew?
#4: Karl Malden as passionate Father Barry
Were NYC priests actually this badass in the ’50s? Are they still? Because Malden’s Father Barry is the coolest. Lighting up cigarettes left and right, taking on the mob, rushing out to rescue some dude from a fight–he does it all. Malden earned himself a Best Supporting Actor nom, too, and with his epic speech following the “accidental” death of a union worker, it’s easy to see why. Watch that below and marvel at his awesomeness.
#5: Terry’s Hobby
Okay, so normally I’d be all “Eww rats with wings,” but I find the fact that Terry has a pigeon coop supremely adorable. He’s this tough guy who works for the mob and used to be a boxer, yet he is so gentle and caring with these birds. I mean, c’mon…charming, handsome, and an animal lover? *swoon*
#6: The make-up scene
So most of you guys know that I have a heart of stone and don’t tend to go for romantic stuff (see The Fault in Our Stars), but THIS scene…I can dig this. Terry has revealed something terrible to Edie, and she refuses to see him, but the man can’t stand not to see her so he breaks down the door. They yell at one another, and Edie tells him to scram…only to wind up fiercely kissing him, confirming her true feelings. I guess you could say something about Edie’s lack of resolve, but really, who can blame the girl? It’s Brando. The chemistry between these two is just perfect.
#7: Charley’s death
At a certain point in the film, we all saw this coming. If you’re like me, you may not have even minded it so much since Charley (Rod Steiger) was actually a pretty lousy brother to Terry. But we feel for Terry, and Brando performs brilliantly here. His reaction to Charley’s death is fairly reserved, but it just feels so…real. At least to me. Watch it below and see if you agree.
#8: Terry confront Johnny Friendly
Terry’s final monologue is such a great moment for his character. Calling out Johnny Friendly for all the ways he has wronged the union workers, Terry shows how much of a sense of morality he has developed since Edie came into his life. The heartbreaking and completely unfair fight that follows may not be his wisest moment, but given that it leads to one of the best movie endings ever, I think we can let it slide, don’t you?
#9: THE ENDING
I don’t even know if I can put the perfection of this film’s ending into words. After getting beaten within an inch of his life, Terry has to do one last thing before he can claim a victory over Johnny Friendly: stand. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, when you can barely keep your eyes open or even feel your feet, it’s actually pretty tricky. But Terry accepts the challenge, staggering along right to the end of the film. It’s just…so good. Watch and enjoy.
And, of course, the best part of all…
#10: I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER
Terry has a moment of stark clarity, and he drops some hard truths on his brother. It’s a superb moment of drama and one of the (many) scenes that earned Brando his Oscar for this film. And the “contender” line, of course, has become one of the most famous movie quotes of all time. You should probably just watch this:
So there you go–a few of the reason why On the Waterfront is such a contender. Do you guys love this movie as much as I do? I really hope so. Anyway, I feel like I should close with another Brando pic because why not? This one is actually from A Streetcar Named Desire (which I have yet to see). One word: yowza.