For Reel

On the Waterfront (1954)
May 8, 2016, 10:09 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Elia Kazan
4 Stars
On the WaterfrontCritics have argued whether or not the parallels one can make between the subtext of On the Waterfront and Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s participation in the House Un-American Activities Committee trials is a worthwhile endeavor to invest in. Should one humor the idea that the film does indeed carry this self-serving ideology, it is clear that the coincidences are both in great numbers and often-times very explicit, including many monologues about whether “snitching” is the morally just thing to do. And yet, whether or not Kazan and Schulberg’s actions are defensible, this lens of viewing On the Waterfront only enriches the film all the further—it’s a fascinating, sometimes desperate piece of vindication, both serving as a sort of apology and a justification. Beyond this admittedly irresistible reading, however, the picture still works as a particularly rich drama due to the intelligent script and appropriate cast. Marlon Brando’s “contender” scene is justifiably the classic (Rod Steiger’s participation in the scene is actually more devastating), but another remarkable feat of acting occurs when Brando reacts to his deceased pigeons. There is no sense of rage or surprise in his actions—Brando simply performs heartbreak as best as he can, which is to say as good as anyone ever has. Additionally, it must be said that Brando’s performance is not only aided by his remarkable sense of immediacy, but in the use of props. Much is made of the scene in which he plays with Eva Marie Saint’s gloves, however his interaction with both the hook (which comes to serve as a sort of symbol of revolution) and the aforementioned pigeons serve to inform the character and his place within the world.

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