On the Waterfront (SE)/A,B
Columbia/1954/108/FS 1.33/BW

     Seldom have filmmakers glimpsed into a world with such insight as On the Waterfront. The history is in the faces, the cold location setting, the stark black and white photography.  Itís truly a milestone American movie. It digs deep inside the guts of the teamsters working the docks. Kazan chooses his faces carefully casting with a keen eye. The line-up of dockworkers includes many extras hired on site.  It manages to forge a racketeering expose, a romance, rare brotherly love and one manís redemption into a cohesive living, breathing movie. It's an amazing script from Budd Schulberg. 

The contender scene. ©Columbia

     On the Waterfront is Terry Malloy's story. The used-up boxer lives by the good graces of union boss Johnny Friendly who employs Terry's brother, Charlie the Gent as his financial brain. Terry gets sucked into an act that leaves him with an acid blood taste in his mouth, a bitter reminder of what his boxing career might have been. His cut-too-many-times eyes open wide and a benign innocence is unleashed. Terry falls for Edie Doyle whose brother was recently murdered. The events surrounding Joey Doyle's death and an ongoing investigation into corruption on the docks come to crashing collision in spectacularly dramatic force at the edge of the waterfront.
     The performances are nothing less than amazing. Letís bypass Brando and Steiger for a moment. Can you imagine the thrill of watching Eva Marie Saint in her screen debut in that first scene. She tears your guts out. Lee J. Cobb as union boss Johnny Friendly is a force of violent nature. When he tears into Brando, he means business. This is a guy sculpted from the granite of the city streets. Heís a survivor. Even at the end, you canít but wonder if Johnny Friendly will survive the moment. Karl Maldenís has never been better than as the self-righteous Father Barry. Catch some of the subtle doubts you see in his facial movements when he sets certain acts in motion. How about veteran supporting player James Westerfield as Big Mac?  Positively odious.  
    
The contender scene in the taxi is one of cinemaís most famous with acting measuring up to the legend. Brando and Steiger play off each otherís energy with wonderful insight. The tenderness and love communicated between the desperation and disappointment is almost unparalleled in my memory.
     A fascinating featurette dissects the taxi scene from multiple points of views. Recollections of Rod Steiger are spliced together with comments from critic Richard Schickel,  ctor Martin Landau and actor's studio host James Lipton. Some of the observations are repetitious and unenlightening, but the narrow focus is an excellent idea.  Strange to hear Steiger remember in the featurette that Brando left for an appointment with a shrink before Steiger had a chance to do his close-ups and Steiger was left to play to a script person. It was a bitter memory, but Steiger, feisty as ever, said he probably used the abandonment to wrench out an even greater performance. Interesting thing about the taxi scene this time out. I noticed that the cab environment didnít look natural. The lights of opposite traffic flashing across the faces of Brando and Steiger are never convincing. The Venetian blinds in the rear window stand out as wrong. Yet, the scene is so powerful that it blots out any visual imperfections. In addition to the featurette, the special edition provides screen specific audio commentary from critic and film historian Richard Schickel and Kazan biographer Jeff Young. There's also a short interview with Kazan which is very entertaining. 
      I wish the elements for classic films like On the Waterfront were in perfect condition.  That's not the case. Happily, On the Waterfront looks very good. The image never detracts from the mesmerizing experience.  There are a few moments when I wanted to look into the eyes of the actors but the image was too soft. There are some scratches, a few, in the elements, and some dirt crops up here and there. Image flashing occurs in a few instances. The transfer is a fine representation of the film. The power is in tact. Black level is excellent. The misty waterfront of the early morning is tightly controlled. On the sound side, the music occasionally has feint wow and flutter. Range is slightly pinched. 

 

 

 


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