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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Classic Film Review: On the Waterfront (1954)

On the Waterfront stars Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, an ex-boxer who now runs errands for Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) and is immersed in the corrupt world of the dockers union. At the beginning of the film Malloy unwittingly lures a man to his death and when he encounters the man's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) he feels guilty about it. Along with Father Barry (Karl Malden), she tries to persuade him to break the wall of silence around the union and help his fellow workers. The cast also includes Rod Steiger as Charley Malloy.

This is one of those phenomenal films that actually lives up to the hype. Brando is excellent in the lead role, his acting style melding perfectly with the quiet character of Terry Malloy, but I probably enjoyed Karl Malden a little more - I'm coming across his work more frequently now and he never fails to disappoint as a strong screen presence. The scene where Father Barry tries to rouse the workers in the hold of a ship is one of the most memorable of the film. Perhaps the most memorable scene of all, however, is the extended final sequence with Malloy standing up to Johnny Friendly. It's brutal and real, with some clever direction putting you in Malloy's head.

It's a very atmospheric film, dark in all the right places, but with flashes of light like the dance between Malloy and Edie. The development of their relationship feels authentic and Eva Marie Saint does an excellent job in her first film role. This is certainly a film I'll revisit in the future. While it's not my usual fare, there's no denying it's a fantastic piece of cinema.

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