Best Picture Review: “On the Waterfront” (1954)

On the Waterfront (1954)
On the Waterfront (1954)

Monday night, after setting up our router, making dinner, and a quick workout, I sat down with Lauren to watch 1954’s Best Picture winner, On the Waterfront, which by many accounts is considered to be one of the best movies on the list.

On the Waterfront is an Elia Kazan production.  Kazan was the director of another recent Best Picture winner, Gentleman’s Agreement, which I thought was one of the weaker movies on the list.  But Kazan certainly outdid himself with this movie about the mob in Manhattan.

On the Waterfront stars Marlon Brando, who at the time was somewhat of a male sex symbol, and co-starred the attractive young Eva Marie Saint, a relative newcomer to the screen.

I’m not sure if I’ve seen anything Marlon Brando is in before.  I knew he was in the Godfather movies, but we are still 20 years away from getting to those.  So despite knowing the name so well, I think this may have been my first Brando experience.  Also, on a side note, it’s nice to finally be at a point in the Best Picture countdown where some of the stars from these movies are actually still alive, like Saint, who still looks reasonably good at 85!

On the Waterfront is about crime on the docks of Manhattan, where Johnny Friendly (he’s not that friendly) is in charge.  He’s obviously behind some murders, and anyone who knows anything is likewise put down.  Terry Malloy (Brando) was tricked into assisting in a recent killing, and has to decide whether to play “deaf and dumb” or testify against Friendly, which of course will likely result in him being killed.  The murder victim’s sister, Edie, who Terry soon falls in love with, and local priest, Father Barry, persuade Terry to testify.  I won’t ruin the ending for those who haven’t seen it.

This is one of the best movies so far on the list.  One aspect that I think shouldn’t be overlooked is the great music arrangements that really added to the suspense, composed by Leonard Bernstein.  And although it is stupid to say, because it is the most modern of the movies we’ve seen so far, but it far-and-away felt like the most modern yet, well ahead of other movies from the 50s.

Great acting, great story, great composition, and all under two hours.  Certainly hits the top five to this point.  So, if I were to again attempt to reorganize the top five, I’d have to go something like this.

  1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1947)
  2. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  3. All About Eve (1950)
  4. Grand Hotel (1932)
  5. On the Waterfront (1954)

Next up is one that I’ve been looking forward to for a while, Marty, starring Ernest Borgnine.

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