Late to being a contender! A review of On the Waterfront

Late to being a contender! A review of On the Waterfront

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.

On the Waterfront (1954)

I’ve been putting off watching On the Waterfront, thanks to a case of mistaken identity. For years I thought that On the Waterfront and On Golden Pond were the same movie, and I have no desire to watch On Golden Pond because, although I respect the hell out of her, I don’t really enjoy watching Katharine Hepburn. No hate, just zzzzzzz. But on a night when I finally decided to give Henry Fonda and Hepburn a chance, Marlon Brando ended up on my television instead. I’m thankful I decided to stop bratting out over that movie because this one turned out to be one of my favorite movies I’ve seen as a part of this blog.

Brando seems like such a caricature in The Godfather— that’s not meant as an insult to him, but when you see millions of people do bad impressions of Don Corleone I can’t help but giggle a little when I hear some of his lines now coming even from him. Couple that with the fact that I was too obsessed with Martin Sheen to even notice that Brando was in Apocalypse Now, and I just never really thought much about how incredible of an actor he is. This movie did it for me. While watching the film, it’s hard to believe that Brando isn’t actually Terry Malloy, that he doesn’t actually feel like so morally conflicted, that he’s not actually intrigued by Edie, that his brother isn’t actually breaking his heart.

While Brando’s acting is probably my favorite part of the movie, he’s supported by a cast of equally talented individuals. The plot and screenplay were very solid to me as well. There is definite political commentary as well as some religious overtones (overtones may not even be adequate considering one of the supporting characters is a priest), but those aspects sell the story. And the last scene? Waterworks. I felt like I was standing right behind him. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so emotional and invested in a film by the end of it.

There are a million other scenes that stand out to me in addition to the finale– the opening scene, the pigeons, the rally at the church, the taxicab scene with his brother, the scene at the bar. Even now as I’m writing this, I’m excited to watch it again. And here I go with the hype machine: I consider this one of my favorite films that I’ve watched so far on this “Late to the Movies” mission, and potentially one of my top ten favorite movies of all time.

[Editor’s note: And if you don’t believe my hype, On the Waterfront won eight Oscars — Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan), Best Actor (Brando), Best Screenplay (Budd Schulberg), Best Supporting Actress (Eva Marie Saint), Best Art Direction (Richard Day), Best Cinematography (Boris Kaufman) and Best Editing (Gene Milford)– and was nominated for four more (score by Leonard Bernstein and three Best Supporting Actor nominees).]

Face palm moment: Not that I didn’t love Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, but this movie has led to a very unhealthy girl crush on my part. I’m not quite sure what to do about it. She was incredible in this movie, she had great chemistry with Brando, and she deserved her Academy Award win. Wowzer.

Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle

Favorite part: I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie, but just assume that I cried my eyeballs out at the last scene. Then I popped my eyeballs back in, and cried them out again. Rinse, repeat.

The “I missed that in pop culture trivia” moment: Anything ever related to that contender line.

Regrettable tardiness scale (out of 10): 10/10. Don’t judge a book by the fact that you think it stars Katharine Hepburn. Recommend if you like movies that are wonderful, and especially if you liked the second season of The Wire


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