Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On The Waterfront

Drew Cantor, John Grzegorzewski, Sean Krieger

On The Waterfront

This was a relatively low budget Hollywood film produced by Columbia Pictures. It had a budget of 1 million dollars and then grossed 10 million dollars. The movie was filmed in just 36 days and did not experience any major obstacles during its production. The film stars Marlon Brando as Terry, an ex prize fighter who now works as a longshoreman. Mob Affiliated Union boss, John Friendly, corruptly runs the docks of New York City and New Jersey with an iron fist. Terry’s brother, Charlie, is Friendly’s right hand man and allows Terry to have special privileges. Friendly gets Terry to set up a murder, by telling Terry that they’re only going to pressure a young longshoreman, Joey, into not testifying in court. After the mobsters kill joey, Terry feels betrayed. He eventually meets Joey’s sister Edie, played by Eva Marie Saint, and is put in a dilemma. He does not know whether to say silent about the murder or whether to “rat” the mobsters out in court. After seeing more corruption on the waterfront and some convincing by Edie and his priest, Terry decides to testify. After he testifies against friendly, Terry is declared a dead man who will never find work on the waterfront. Terry defies this and still shows up for work. After being the only man denied work, he fights friendly but is then jumped by his thugs. The other workers get behind terry and say they don’t work unless he does. The movie ends with terry leading the other workers into a warehouse to work.
The film was nominated for 12 academy awards and ended up winning eight of those. Brando won best actor and in her debut film, Eva Marie Saint won best supporting actress. In 1997 it was ranked the eighth greatest American film ever by the American Film Institute. The film is based on New York Sun’s reporter Malcolm Johnson’s series Crime on the Waterfront. Elia Kazan directed the movie. Bud Schulburg wrote the movie after Kazan’s original choice, Arthur Miller backed out due to Kazan’s involvement with HUAC. The film was very innovative for its time. Brando and the other actors were some of the very first method actors. Method actors emphasize reacting how they would in real life rather than having over exaggerated and overly clarified emotions that many other actors at that time exemplified. Although critics and audiences received the film very well, it was also scrutinized due to Kazan’s involvement with HUAC. Many believed this film was Kazan’s justification for his involvement with HUAC.
            Many people see Kazan’s film as defending his own actions when he testified in front of the HUAC.  The film can be seen as realist because of the connections of the writer and Kazan to the characters, and it seems to make an earnest attempt at depicting the real life dilemma of whether or not to “rat” on friends.  Also, the film was based on real-events, which leads this to be a realist film.  In terms of an allegory, there exist two main theories behind On The Waterfront.  It can be seen as anti-communist, in that Johnny Friendly and the mob represent the infiltration in American life by the communist party.  Seen this way, it is critical of the way it manipulated working class Americans and testifying against them was the morally correct thing to do even in the face of being ostracized.  However, it may be seen as an allegory coming out against the HUAC.  In this case, Johnny Friendly represents the HUAC and his actions of keeping things quiet was indicative of the forms of repression of speech practiced by the HUAC.  Due to the nature of the HUAC anything critical of them could not be overt, which is why this way of seeing the film is not as prevalent.
            Elia Kazan, director of On The Waterfront, joined the Communist Party in 1935 in America.  He was a member for 18 months, before he was kicked out for refusing to call a strike at the theater group that he was a part of.  Later, in 1954, Kazan was called twice before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to testify and name known members and affiliates of the Communist Party, particularly within the entertainment industry.  During his first testimony, Kazan refused to name anyone.  During his second testimony, he decided to act as a “friendly witness” in front of the committee and had named a handful of party members and people in the industry he worked with.  Prior to his second testimony, Kazan had contacted and told many of the members of the industry that he was going to name them before the committee.  It was later revealed that HUAC had already known the people that Kazan had named, prior to his testimony.  It was revealed later in Kazan’s life that he had been told by Spyros Skouras, the then current president of 20th Century Fox, that if he did not comply with the committee, that the company would no longer employ him.  Over 70 people appeared as friendly witnesses in front of HUAC, yet Kazan’s testimony proved to be the most controversial, possibly considering his prominence as a director.
            When asked whether or not Kazan was justified in his decision based on the above information, the class seemed to agree that Kazan was in some way forced or compelled to testify in front of the committee, considering he was facing either a blacklist by the government, or the industry that he worked in. 

Works Cited

"Method Man." Editorial. The New Yorker 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <>.
"On the Waterfront." IMDb., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <>.
Smith, Jeff.  Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist.  University of California Press.


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