Film / On the Waterfront

"You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley."
Terry Malloy

A 1954 film directed by Elia Kazan, written by Budd Schulberg and starring Marlon Brando in his first Academy Award winning-role, On the Waterfront was also the Oscar winner for Best Picture. It is also notable for being the only film scored by Leonard Bernstein that is not a musical.

In the film, Brando plays Terry Malloy, a former prizefighter now employed as a dockworker for the corrupt Union-boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J Cobb.) One day, Malloy inadvertently participates in the murder of a dockworker that had planned to expose Mr. Friendly's illegal activities. As he comforts the dead man's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint,) and meets a kindly priest (Karl Malden), Terry is urged to help expose Friendly's crimes before someone else dies. How long can Terry go on before he finally has to act against the corrupt men who own the docks?

This film provides examples of:

  • Aloof Big Brother: Charley. This veneer is probably caused by Charley's subconscious guilt over ruining Terry's boxing career, and it's shattered when Johnny tells him to kill Terry.
  • Badass Preacher: Father Barry. This guy punches Marlon Brando halfway across a room and at the outset of the film is the only character willing to stand up to Friendly.
  • Big Bad: Mr. Friendly.
  • Dirty Coward: The only reason Terry lost the fight with Friendly was because Friendly called his guards to help him pry Terry off. The dockworkers, witnessing this, lose all respect and fear of Friendly.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: The very problem that inspires Terry to say "I Coulda Been a Contender!".
  • Good Shepherd: Father Barry.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Terry is duped into luring Joey Doyle to his death; he spends the rest of the film trying to make amends.
  • Hidden Depths: Terry.
  • Honor Before Reason: The dock workers are afraid of informing on Johnny Friendly but their children grow up believing ratting someone out is bad period. This leads some of them to kill Terry's pigeons for deciding to testify even though he really is doing the right thing.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Trope Namer.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him : Terry is talked out of killing Friendly by Father Barry, who urges him to testify against him instead.
  • Impairment Shot: Terry suffers from blurred vision during his staggering walk to the dock at the climax, after he's beaten by Johnny's goons.
  • Inspired By: The source of this film was a 1949 Pulitzer-winning series of articles about corruption on the waterfront.
  • Oh Crap!: Kayo Dugan, right before he is crushed by a falling load of cargo.
  • Pet the Dog: Terry's love of pigeons should be one of your first hints that he's a good guy. Also helps he talks to a few kids and is kind to them as well. This makes it worse when those same kids kill his birds simply because he testified against Friendly.
  • Punched Across the Room: Marlon Brando, of all people. Father Barry punches Terry across the room when Terry tells him to go to hell.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Terry and Father Barry respectively.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Edie, she was said to have had very thick braids, glasses, and braces as a kid and is told "you grew up very nice".
  • Stuffed In The Fridge: Towards the climax of the film, the corpse of Terry's brother Charlie is found strung up on a wall.
  • Take That: Elia Kazan, infamous for the rest of his life for naming names on the HUAC committee, made this film to show his critics an informer in a positive-light... Which didn't have much of a effect, given that people were still protesting his choice when he won the Honorary Academy Award.
  • Throwing the Fight: Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Terry.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Terry Malloy's fight against corruption was in part modeled after whistle-blowing longshoreman Anthony De Vincenzo, who testified before a real-life Waterfront Commission about activities on the Hoboken Docks and suffered a degree of ostracism for his deed. De Vincenzo sued and settled, many years after, with Columbia Pictures over the appropriation of what he considered his story. De Vincenzo claimed to have recounted his story to screenwriter Budd Schulberg during a month-long session of waterfront barroom meetings. Schulberg attended De Vincenzo's waterfront commission testimony every day during the hearing.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Johnny Friendly at the end.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Barry gives one to Terry for nearly giving into his anger and trying to off Friendly after he kills Charley.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Terry always regretted taking that dive.

Alternative Title(s): On The Waterfront