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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

On the Waterfront (1954)



Reviews and Comments

What was arguably director Elia Kazan's masterpiece was also, curiously enough, a staunch defense of his testimony at the House of Unamerican Activities during the McCarthy era. This mars the film for some, but others are quick to point out that many films have ulterior agendas, some hidden, some not. Ultimately, all that matters is what's on the screen.

And what's on the screen in On the Waterfront is a revolutionary work of art. As with A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando's performance is outstanding and remains one of the most influential in cinematic history, ushering in a new style of acting that was based more on feeling and instinct than on intellect. The performances are all outstanding, in fact -- one of Kazan's greatest strengths as a director was the ability to evoke and capture powerful performances from his actors.

The story is taut and resonating; the locales, the people that inhabit them, and the non-idealistic yet practical rules by which they live are vividly and colorfully portrayed. The sense of passions suppressed by fear is everpresent. In Brando's situation, would you have his courage? Or would you even have a choice? What do you do when honor and justice are at odds? What do you do if you doubt what is said to be honor is actually honorable? These are not easy questions, and even though the film and its characters take a firm stand, there is much still to think about. I liked the film for this, and I liked it even more for its compelling artistry, technical excellence, and raw power. This is a brilliant film and should not be missed.