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On the Waterfront Review


As practically everyone knows, Coronavirus has ensnared the world into a webway of panic, terror, and boredom as most citizens are forced to remain at home out of fear of contracting the virus, despite its low lethality. I bet all my daily readers, if any still remain, are cooped up inside their homes right now. Remember to wash your hands, keep proper hygiene, all that fun stuff. It's also highly likely everyone's watching movies, television shows, playing videogames, enjoying idle entertainment to keep their minds occupied during this trying time of plague. Well, I did just that. Instead of sleeping lazily in my bed, I sat lazily on my couch and watched an older movie from the 1950s. A far cry from the usual action-packed madness or modern thriller dramas I'm accustomed too, there is little political machination in On the Waterfront. Consider this the beginning of my 'Corona-Season' Blog Updates.

Our story revolves around Terry, an ex-boxer played by Marlon Brando in Upstate New York's dockyards, ruled by a corrupt Union Boss named Johnny Friendly and his armada of loyal goons and criminal connections that pilfer profit shares meant to be divulged to unionist workers. Friendly's schemes soon alienate Terry after he unwittingly participates in the execution of Joey Doyle, an honest worker that tries ratting on Friendly's villainous plots. Subsequently, Terry falls in love with Doyle's sister Edie, who is desperately pursuing justice for her fallen brother despite all odds stacked against her. Over the movie's course, Terry evolves from a self-interested goon to a genuine person that cares for others, from his fellow workers, to the heroic Priest also battling against the corruption (Father Barry), to Edie, whom he falls in love with.

Honestly speaking, if you're accustomed to modern movies filled with CGI monsters and unspeakable, galactic-stakes, you might not enjoy this. But that's completely fine, as everyone has different tastes. I only reluctantly gave this watch a shot, only after some coercing and extreme boredom stemming from quarantine. However, I found myself quickly enraptured by the movie's plot, despite it containing no amazingly high stakes whatsoever. There isn't a world at risk or people to save, no evil alien overlord to destroy or Dark Lord to dismantle. The only quest here is taking down Johnny Friendly via honest legal persecutions, a tactic which eventually comes into fruition. The dialogue, the acting, it all seems so genuine, probably owing to this movie's many successes at the box office and Oscars, winning Best Picture, and even enjoying a 'historically significant' presence at the Library of Congress.

Regarding the movie's themes, villains, and overall presentation, there isn't really anything unique I can say. Johnny Friendly is a generic, standard, yet highly realistic mafia don that controls the dockyards using his private goons and local enforcers. There are numerous political and societal allegations, especially regarding the danger of Worker's Unions and how they could be weaponized for criminal enterprise, a fact rather interesting when you consider that Elia Kazan, the movie's director, had in fact ratted out several of his fellow cinema studio buffs during the 1950s Red Scare, commanded by inquisitive politician Joe McCarthy and his HUAC Committee. HUAC, officially known as the House Un-American Activities Committee, was basically a political persecution force brought together to root out suspected Communists in America's entertainment industry. Unfortunately, many of the accused weren't even evolved with leftist subversion, or barely affiliated with Communism, yet still penalized heavily, as their shame was broadcast nationally and they became blacklisted, their careers collapsing into nothingness. In this atmosphere McCarthy cultivated in Hollywood, an attitude of remaining quiet if you knew about these activities or participated in them yourself was the accepted norm. Kazan didn't see it that way, genuinely believing (rightly so perhaps) that Communism was a scourge, and ratting on all known Communist sympathizers he knew.

Kazan's legacy is now controversial, as his talent shines through in every cinematic piece of his, yet his actions undertaken while in his career's height are lambasted as 'ratting' even today. Whatever your opinion, On the Waterfront clearly echoes many of Kazan's political opinions and worries, but still provides an entertaining, fun dramatic love story mixed in with taking down a ruthless mob boss, if you're into that kinda stuff anyway.