Down on the murky waterfront, steady work for the longshoremen ebbs and flows according to union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee Cobb) and his motley litter of well-heeled thugs. Talk too much, step out of line, or break the unwritten code and you may not see tomorrow's sunrise.
After confiding in two crime investigators, Joey Doyle, a decent bloke, is unceremoniously pushed from an apartment building roof leaving his sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) determined to find out who did her brother in. On the dock she meets Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), a has-been boxer turned bird coop keeper, befriended during his orphaned childhood by the corrupt Johnny who took him to ball games, directed his fighting career, and won his allegiance. When Edie's single-minded resolve begins to make Terry question the senseless deaths on the dock, Johnny becomes uneasy and puts pressure on the young man to conform to the rules of the game. But the more Terry understands the mob's mandate, the less he wants to be part of their plans, realizing that he is being played for a pigeon.
Cowed by the labor union that should be helping them, even the maltreated dockworkers fear siding with Terry against the deathblows of the racketeers. But the only way to bring change to the beleaguered Irish borough and regain his self-respect may require Terry to turn his back on Johnny and his cohorts.
Filmed in black and white, this 1954 story of organized crime On the Waterfront was inspired by a series of Pulitzer prize-winning articles published in the New York Sun. The film won numerous Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Male Actor for the young Marlon Brando and a Best Supporting Actress for the debuting Eva Marie Saint.
This gripping story of personal atonement and redemption includes plentiful scenes of mob violence unsuitable for preteens but the innovative filming techniques and a strong storyline of taking corruption head on, provide this film with a powerful punch that makes it a classic contender for teenage viewing.
Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...
Overall: B+ Sullied only by the flagrant violence employed by the union leaders, this redemptive story of personal atonement leaves viewers holding to the hope that one man can make a difference if he is willing to stand up and be counted.
Violence: D+ Man thrown from roof, characters fighting in bar, rock thrown through church window, fighting scene outside church, man shown with bloody face, man killed by falling crates, objects thrown at priest, man points a gun at his brother, man struggles with woman, truck tries to run down two people in alley, dead man with blood on his jacket shown hanging on hook in alley, man takes gun into bar looking for revenge, dead birds shown in coop, fist fight shown between two men, man shown with bloody and bruised face, man yelling threats at other men, references made to other deaths on the dock.
Sexual Content: A- Man shown looking at pornographic magazine, kissing between unmarried couple, woman shown in slip.
Language: B+ At least one mild profanity and four terms of Deity are used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: C+ Smoking and bar scenes are shown numerous times, man invites woman to a bar, later tries to force her to drink, bride at wedding asks for a cigarette, priest asks for both a cigarette and a beer, main character shown drinking when angry.
Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...
Throughout the movie, Joey’s plaid jacket is passed from person to person. Who wears the jacket and what happens to each of them? What do you think the jacket represents?
When Joey is killed, Edie accuses the parish priest Father Barry of hiding in the church. How does he react to her comment and what does he do to help the people of his parish fight the union leaders?
For more interesting questions and information about On the Waterfront, check out www.teachwithmovies.org/guides/on-the-waterfront.html
Home Video Notes
Home Video Notes: On The Waterfront
Release Date: 19 February 2013
On The Waterfront release to home video (2 Blu-ray Discs) with the following extras:
- Commentary featuring authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young
- New documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with scholar Leo Braudy, critic David Thomson, and others
- New interview with actress Eva Marie Saint
- Contender: 2001 documentary on the film’s most famous scene
- Interview with director Elia Kazan from 2001
- New interview with longshoreman Thomas Hanley, an actor in the film
- New interview with author James T. Fisher (On the Irish Waterfront) about the real-life people and places behind the film
- Visual essays on Leonard Bernstein’s score and the aspect ratio
- A booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Almereyda and reprints of Kazan’s 1952 ad in the New York Times defending his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, one of the 1948 New York Sun articles by Malcolm Johnson on which the film was based, and a 1953 Commonweal piece by screenwriter Budd Schulberg
- Conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones
- Elia Kazan: Outsider (1982), an hour-long documentary