Movie Project #42: On the Waterfront [1954]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

On the Waterfront [1954]

On the Waterfront [1954]
Director: Elia Kazan
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint and Lee J. Cobb
Runtime: 108 minutes

“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.”

One of my favorite aspects in embarking on this 50 Movies Project is finally seeing the films from which well-known lines originated. “I coulda been a contender” has been used and spoofed countless times over the years, but in the context of On the Waterfront, it still remains in a powerful scene — a highlight of an exceptional film.

On the Waterfront [1954]

Marlon Brando stars as Terry Malloy, an ex-prizefighter who now works on the docks of New York City. His brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), is a major figurehead in the local mob that also happens to control the dockworkers’ union. The mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), runs the docks with an iron fist, and he is not afraid to “snuff” out anyone who speaks out against him.

Moral issues come into play when Terry witnesses the murder of a worker who was set to testify against the mob. Terry was used to coax the worker onto a roof, but he was told they were going to talk it out, not kill the man. Already feeling guilty about the death, Terry is pleaded to help by the murdered man’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), and the local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden). As he becomes smitten with Edie and listens to Father Barry’s powerful sermons, Terry is forced to confront his own guilty conscience, something he has suppressed his entire life.

On the Waterfront [1954]

Corruption is a major focus of the film, but there is also a poignant love story underneath. Terry Malloy has a tough outer shell, and he may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is an exceptional character with a good heart. Edie realizes there’s more to him than what’s initially seen, and their connection feels real and natural.

In fact, the film itself has a very authentic feel to it, partly because it was filmed on-location in Hoboken, NJ. Some of the mob goons used were even ex-prizefighters themselves. Even though this is nearly a 60 year old story, it still holds relevance today.

On the Waterfront [1954]

Much has been said of Marlon Brando’s performance in this, and the high praise is well deserved. His moments with Eva Marie Saint are especially brilliant, though it is his scene with Rod Steiger in the back of the limo that everyone remembers (the “contender” line). I was also impressed with Karl Malden’s role as the priest, a very important figure in the film.

On the Waterfront received an extraordinary twelve Academy Award nominations, winning eight of them (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay). Its importance in cinematic history cannot be denied, as evidenced by its appearance in no less than seven American Film Institute lists. Still effective today, On the Waterfront warrants a highest recommendation.


Movie Project #39 and #40: Last Tango in Paris [1972] and The Maltese Falcon [1941]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Last Tango in Paris [1972, Bernardo Bertolucci]
Last Tango in Paris [1972, Bernardo Bertolucci]
Starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi.

I don’t know if there is a more controversial film in my project. Last Tango in Paris gained a lot of notoriety with its theatrical release, as it received the ominous NC-17 rating. This is a movie that has no shame, and I would imagine that Maria Schneider was at least partly nude for half of the film, if not more. The movie focuses on an anonymous affair between the young Jeanne (Schneider) and the much older American hotel owner Paul (Brando). Paul is a recent widow, and Jeanne is a recently engaged woman who somehow seems pure and innocent. What transpires for much of the film’s 2+ hour runtime is a series of mindless physical hookups where not much else happens. The film’s last 30 minutes or so serve as a stark contrast to the rest of the picture, and this is when all hell breaks loose.

This final 1/4 of the movie is very interesting, but it took a hell of a long time to get there. Scenes of increasingly graphic sex can only do so much before they become trite and shallow. Brando’s performance is undeniably strong, but it is rather unfortunate how emotionally damaging this film was to Schneider. Apparently the uncut version of the film is a whopping 250 minutes — for me, two hours was plenty enough as is. Until the intriguing final act, Last Tango in Paris is a bit of a bore that relies too heavily on gratuitous sex to get by. 6/10

The Maltese Falcon [1941, John Huston]
The Maltese Falcon [1941, John Huston]
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George.

I am amazed that it has taken me this long to see The Maltese Falcon, which is widely considered as the grand-daddy of Film Noir. This is the movie that made Bogart a big star, and his role as private investigator Sam Spade is even more impressive than his later turn as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. This film revolves around an elusive treasure, a jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon. Spade gets drawn into the mess after working with a new client, the femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Astor), and soon he becomes entangled in the web of crime and murder.

Director John Huston’s first directorial effort has a wonderful mix of action and slick dialogue, and he is aided greatly by the casting of Bogart, who delivers a performance for the ages. His turn as Spade ranks as one of the most badass characters in cinematic history. There are lots of familiar faces here — Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr. — and all involved are terrific in their roles. The Maltese Falcon is a fantastic Film Noir that is worthy of its classic status. 9/10