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AFI 100: On the Waterfront

Having come from the generation that knew Marlon Brando primarily as Superman's dad, Dr. Moreau, and the default punchline for Johnny Carson fat jokes (once Raymond Burr kicked the bucket), it's amazing to see the guy at the top of his game, making every actor unfortunate enough to share a scene with him look like a rank amateur. Made in 1954, On the Waterfront seems right on the cusp of the transition from old-school "stagey" performances and new-fangled "method acting", with a Brando leading the charge, mumbling and stuttering his way through his portrayal of Terry Malloy, small-time hood with a heart of gold (or, at least, a weakness for blondes). This film would have been a perfect 10 for me were it not for the ending, which I found too pat and the ruination of what would have otherwise been a pitch-perfect and unrelenting piece of noir. Humorous aside: I was completely broadsided by the "coulda been a contenda!" bit--as god as my witness I always though De Niro delivered that line in Raging Bull. Learn somethin' new every day. 9/10

Posted on July 22, 2008 to AFI 100





Comments

I watched this movie a few years ago and it made me realize how little I really understand about film or story for that matter. I could tell there was something there, but I had no idea what it was. Since then, I can tell when a movie is good (critically) when I don't understand it, or when I finish and I am in the same frame of mind as when I started.

One thing I really liked about "the line" is the difference in emphasis. For years I had heard it as, "...I coulda been somebody." In the movie, he delivers it as, "...I coulda been somebody." The former making Terry sound like he was lamenting his past and the later making Terry lament who he was which seems much more apropos to his character.

I really like your AFI 100 posts.

Posted by: Dave Smith on July 22, 2008 10:49 PM

I hate to be the asshole to mention this, but it's "as god is my witness", as in "it's as sure as god is my witness". This is one of those little things that drives me crazy. Sorry.

Posted by: Laurie on July 22, 2008 11:37 PM


As far as I know, Malloy is killed at the end of the novel but this was considered too pessimistic for a Hollywood movie in late MacCarthyist America. Itís a pity because I agree that the only weak point in the movie is the finale. Sticking to the book ending would have made it much more powerful.

Oh and now that Iíve thought of Eva Marie Saint on the waterfront, Iím going to have Lloyd Cole and the Commotions in my damn head all day. Thanks Matt.

Posted by: Lung the Younger on July 23, 2008 1:26 AM

John Belushi and Peter Boyle once did a Saturday Night Live skit called "Dueling Brandos." I think it was Belushi who said the "contender" line in that skit.

Posted by: T Grum on July 23, 2008 6:31 AM

De Niro does deliver the "coulda been a contender" bit in Raging Bull, but his character Jake LaMotta is is quoting Marlon Brando from On the Waterfront when he does it. :o)

Posted by: Andreas on July 23, 2008 6:39 AM

The musical score. I can watch the movie just for that. Thank you, Leonard Bernstein.

Posted by: Lost Poke on July 23, 2008 7:01 AM

blondes.

Posted by: dc on July 23, 2008 12:32 PM

How timely. DH just sent me this list of commonly misquoted movies. Sadly, you seem to be alone on this one.

http://listverse.com/entertainment/top-15-film-misquotes/

Posted by: Dawn Stiller on July 23, 2008 5:31 PM

Apocalypse Now was actually based on Mike Huckabee's wet dream involving smokin' hot Cambodian chicks and rocket launchers.

(And by chicks, I mean chickens. Why are Southern Baptists so obsessed with chicken-fucking in outhouses?)

Posted by: Garth Vader on July 23, 2008 8:37 PM

I really wanted to like this movie, but it just seemed like one great big whiny screech from Elia Kazan in defense of his naming names before HUAC. "No! I was heroic to rat on my friends and save my own ass!"

I don't know if this is how the movie comes off to anybody else, but I just couldn't stand it.

Posted by: Joe on July 25, 2008 6:57 AM

I studied film in college and watched "On The Waterfront" then. I was blown away by your very description of Brando. Such a wonderful film. It was also in college that I got turned on to Hitchcock films - Dude, Vertigo and Rear Window are still of my two favorite films of all time.

Posted by: Beth on July 26, 2008 1:14 PM

Since no one has mentioned it yet, I'll kindly point out that the young Marlon Brando was unbelievably smoking hot.

Posted by: eileen on July 26, 2008 3:04 PM

Kazan also did good work with "A Streetcar Named Desire." It helps that Tennessee Williams did such a great job with the play. Brando was a genius. From his inarticulate hulk in Streetcar to his articulate madman in Apocalypse Now.

Also check out the films of Stanley Donen. He did "Charade" -- a Hitchcock-esque spy story, "7 Brides for 7 Brothers" and "Singing in the Rain." He was the successor to Busby Berkeley when it came to choreographing dance sequences. And after Donen there is Bob Fosse.

Posted by: Garth Vader on July 26, 2008 3:08 PM

And Kazan's contribution to the fight against the evils of Communism cannot go untold.

Posted by: LAN3 on July 28, 2008 9:44 AM

If you'd like to see another brilliant younger (smoking hot) Brando performance, check out "Teahouse of the August Moon." (I think I've remembered that title correctly) It's set in Okinawa and Brando plays a sneaky Japanese helper to the awkward American soldiers "come to save Okinawa"... that'll be even funnier once you've seen the movie.

It's hard to reconcile the Brando from late in his career (being rather portly) with the little japanese guy that is so funny. Then again, maybe it's not so hard.

Posted by: Elizabeth on July 29, 2008 1:00 PM

I had a similar experience with Brando--not realizing for a long time that he was ever anything than a washed up Jabba-the-Hutt lookalike, though I saw Streetcar Named Desire first, in an acting class--as it was the real breakthrough film for method acting--where the ending was also watered down a bit, though not drowned like in On the Waterfront.

Posted by: YogaforCynics on August 10, 2008 5:29 PM

I had a similar experience with Brando--not realizing for a long time that he was ever anything other than a washed up Jabba-the-Hutt lookalike, though I saw Streetcar Named Desire first, in an acting class--as it was the real breakthrough film for method acting--where the ending was also watered down a bit, though not drowned like in On the Waterfront.

Posted by: YogaforCynics on August 10, 2008 5:29 PM