On the Waterfront Insight

Topics: Morality, On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando Pages: 16 (5047 words) Published: March 14, 2012
Insight text article on On the Waterfront

Article by Rosemary O’Shea

ON THE WATERFRONT Directed by Elia Kazan

On the Waterfront is a classic Hollywood movie, winning eight Academy awards in 1954. Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Terry, the simple young dockworker who takes on the corrupt waterfront bosses, is one of the great screen performances in cinema history. The film explores the struggle between conscience and self interest and the question of where loyalty belongs. Eva Marie Saint plays the innocent Edie whose love encourages Terry to become a hero. The film’s black-and-white photography gives a stark presentation of the dirty tenements and the treacherous docks where the characters live and work.

Dockworker Joey Doyle is murdered as payback for giving police evidence against the corrupt waterfront Union. Terry Malone, a young, uneducated dockworker, has been used by the Union to lure Joey to his death, and he feels disturbed and worried by this. He becomes attracted to Joey’s sister, Edie, who, together with local priest Father Barry, is determined to find Joey’s murderers. Terry is loyal to the Union and the tradition of remaining ‘D and D’ (deaf and dumb) to government attempts to clean it up, but his growing love for Edie forces him to slowly realize that he belongs to a corrupt culture that oppresses the workers.

© Insight Publications 2009


Insight text article on On the Waterfront

The code of silence is strong. Workers fear the Union’s brutal reprisals and Father Barry finds it hard to persuade anyone to speak out. Docker KO Dugan is murdered after giving evidence. This makes Terry realise that he should testify against Union boss Johnny Friendly. His brother Charley, Friendly’s moneyman, is ordered to dissuade Terry and is murdered when he lets Terry escape. In rage and grief Terry goes to kill Friendly, but Father Barry persuades him that a more effective revenge would be to bring Friendly’s empire down by testifying. After the inquiry Terry is shunned by the dockers and is refused work. He attacks Friendly but is brutally bashed by Union thugs. As the dockers watch, opinion turns in Terry’s favour. Father Barry and Edie get Terry onto his feet and despite his injuries he leads the dockworkers to a new job, free of Union interference.

On the Waterfront was made in 1954. Budd Schulberg’s screenplay is based on a series of Pulitzer Prize–winning news articles by Malcolm Johnson, published in the New York Sun in 1949. The articles exposed the murder, extortion and standover tactics infesting the docks, which were controlled by the corrupt Longshoremen’s Union. A Congressional inquiry, like the one in the film, was set up to hear evidence from the dockworkers in an attempt to clean up the waterfront. The movie reflects an aspect of American life at that time – in the same way that the Underbelly series is seen to reflect the story of Australian crime syndicates today – and was immensely popular. Elia Kazan, the film’s director, had his own reasons for wanting to tell the story of a courageous whistleblower who risks life and reputation to follow his conscience and give testimony. Kazan, a Communist Party member in his youth, had testified in 1952 to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Commission) against his peers in the film industry and had been subjected to much contempt and rejection. It was an era of hysterical anti-Communist fear in the US, and the HUAC, under Senator Joseph McCarthy, was determined © Insight Publications 2009 2

Insight text article on On the Waterfront

to find any Communist sympathisers, especially in the arts community. Kazan is widely believed to have made the film in order to justify his actions, and he makes it endorse the moral judgement of one who stands against public opinion and follows his conscience. On the Waterfront is set on the docks at Hoboken, New Jersey, and it was also filmed there,...
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