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On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

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On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

On the Waterfront (1954)
3xDVD9 | VIDEO_TS | NTSC 1,33/1,66/1,85:1 | Artwork | 01:47:47 | 23 Gb
Audio: English 5.1/1.0 @ 448/384 Kbps | Subtitles: English SDH
Genre: Crime, Drama | The Criterion Collection #647

Director: Elia Kazan
Writers: Budd Schulberg
Stars: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb

Marlon Brando gives the performance of his career as the tough prizefighter-turned-longshoreman Terry Malloy in this masterpiece of urban poetry. A raggedly emotional tale of individual failure and social corruption, On the Waterfront follows Terry’s deepening moral crisis as he must decide whether to remain loyal to the mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) and Johnny’s right-hand man, Terry’s brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), as the authorities close in on them. Driven by the vivid, naturalistic direction of Elia Kazan and savory, streetwise dialogue by Budd Schulberg, On the Waterfront was an instant sensation, winning eight Oscars, including for best picture, director, actor, supporting actress (Eva Marie Saint), and screenplay.

IMDB - Top Rated Movies #170 | Won 8 Oscars | Criterion | Wikipedia | Rotten Tomatoes

On the Waterfront is one of a number of prominent American "social problem" films from the 1950s that fused elements of neorealism with the German-influenced expressionism of popular noirs to achieve an unusual tone of gritty fantasia. In fact, On the Waterfront, with a story that includes a disgraced prizefighter, a bruised virginal dame, and a venal mobster all somewhat improbably bound together, is a noir.

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

But On the Waterfront, of course, comes with considerably more cultural notoriety than a conventional noir. Marlon Brando's lead performance as Terry Malloy was an explosive and influential testament to the Method acting that he, director Elia Kazan, and many others had been experimenting with in the theater and film for some time. And nesting within the film is an irresistible meta subtext, as many interpreted Terry's climactic court testimony against his former longshoreman cronies as a symbolic justification for Kazan's notorious cooperation with the House of Un-American Activities Committee two years prior.

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

As a representation of Kazan's decision to testify against former members of the communist party, On the Waterfront is ridiculous. Even on symbolic terms, there's simply no rational correlation between a downtrodden man testifying against the gangsters who murdered several of his friends and a successful artist who participated in a disgraceful moment in American history. In fact, the heroes of Kazan's film, particularly Father Pete Barry (Karl Malden), bear a greater resemblance to the communist party than the evildoers most prominently represented by a charismatic and scary Lee J. Cobb.

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

Stripped of that historical context (which is debatable anyway; the supplemental materials included in this Criterion Collection edition convincingly suggest that Kazan's assertions that the film was meant as a personal defense are rooted more in coincidence and grandstanding than fact), On the Waterfront remains an incredibly stirring and relevant melodrama. Kazan conjured an illusion of docudrama spontaneity with his on-location shooting that allows him to stage images with psychological symbolism and religious metaphor with relative subtlety. Besides the famous crucifixion imagery, there's also the generally cramped sense that characterizes many of the domestic and street sequences. You're allowed to feel and see the figurative and literal cages that confine the exploited and poverty-stricken characters as they make their way to the docks as well as to their shoebox apartments and bars as the endless winter wind beats against their faces, which bracingly contrast with the open, free-floating moments Terry shares with his would-be lover, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). (The greatest moment in the film is often unremarked on: the sensual mixture of release and guilt on Edie's face as she slowly throws back her first shot of liquor – and the glow her of face reminds you that cinematographer Boris Kaufman also shot Jean Vigo's glorious films.)

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

The performances deepen the film's union of the realist and the poetic, especially Brando's. For all the talk of his devotion to grounding his characters in detailed psychological realism, the actor never gave what could be conventionally described as a realistic performance. It's not hyperbolic to call Brando one of cinema's crowning gods: He was simply too physically commanding and deeply weird, too much of an indisputable star, to play an ordinary individual, even one said to be blessed with some talent. With the exception of Terry's walk, which is convincing because the self-consciousness suits the authenticity of a character attempting to affect stature to impress a beautiful woman, nothing Brando does in this film is as ordinary as Terry's meant to be. Even the justly celebrated moment when Terry tries on Edie's glove is rooted more in the symbolic than the authentic. How many men, other than perhaps artists, would respond to Edie's dropped glove with this graceful physical soliloquy of loneliness and sexual hunger?

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

Brando's brilliance resided in his ability to elevate universal, elemental yearning to the level of myth; he voices what many people may find to be inexpressible, and Kazan and Kaufman's staging renders that myth as earthbound as it's ever going to be. On the Waterfront is a Hollywood fantasy with an unusually distinct atmosphere of disenfranchised frustration that remains contemporary, which is to say that it fulfills an audience member's daydream of grandeur while fulfilling his or her desire to see a film that speaks directly to their experience. (Mean Streets, Rocky, Raging Bull, and many others are unthinkable without this film.) Kazan's ultimate gift may have been his pomposity: He read a gangster story and said, "This is my story, this is our story."
On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

It’s the scene. The one everyone talks about. The one that crops up in every montage on ’50s American cinema or great screen performances, the one that has been played and replayed and copied and parodied and mimicked so many times that it sometimes feels in danger of losing its bite. Yet, it never does, and therein lies the power and the greatness of not just this one scene, but the film of which it is a part. The film is Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, and the scene, of course, is Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy, a former boxer-turned-reluctant heavy for a corrupt New Jersey longshoremen union, riding in the back seat of a taxi with his brother Charley (Rod Steiger), the union’s financial guru. Terry is torn about whether or not he should cooperate with a federal investigation into the union’s illegal activities and, in particular, the murder of a stool pigeon in which Terry played a small, but crucial role. Charley is trying to convince him to keep his mouth shut, but Terry isn’t so sure.

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

The scene, however, isn’t ultimately about whether or not Terry will testify, but rather about the fraught relationship between the two brothers. With great, almost childlike sadness, Terry utters the immortal lines, “I coulda had a class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am.” In a fit of emotional nakedness, Terry lays his lost dreams at his brother’s feet, reminding him that his boxing career was derailed when he took a dive in an important bout so that the waterfront boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), could make money gambling against him. “You saw some money,” Charley retorts, reminding Terry that he benefitted financially from the dive, as well, but the words ring hollow—to both of the men in the cab and to us. In that moment, and in Brando’s puffy, anguished eyes, we see a man who poignantly and tragically realizes that his life ended before it ever had a chance to begin and suddenly understands why. “You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit,” Terry tells him, and it strikes us not as whining, but as pleading (the “little bit” in the dialogue is essential, in this regard). It’s a desperate man’s desperate desire to understand why his life has turned out the way it has, why he never got “his night” and therefore wound up in “palookaville.” In short, why he isn’t somebody. It is the most poignant scene in a film that is filled with them, testament to both Kazan’s abiding humanism and Brando and Steiger’s performative brilliance.

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

On the Waterfront, which was produced independently outside of the Hollywood studio system and revived Kazan’s career after his tumultuous decision to “name names” before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, was a watershed moment in cinema history, and it remains one of the greatest films of the 1950s. It was a time when American filmmakers were beginning to absorb the realist aesthetic that had been cutting through European cinema in the postwar years and use it to depict tough subject matter in an increasingly frank manner. Kazan, who had first made his mark with so-called “social problem films” in the late 1940s, including the Oscar-winning Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947), which dealt with anti-Semitism, and Pinky (1949), which dealt with “passing” and interracial romance, was particularly well suited to this terrain. As a founding member of the Actors Studio in New York, which used the “Method” developed by Konstantin Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theater, Kazan had a gift for working with actors. While he split his time between cinema and the stage, where he directed the Broadway premiers of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, there was a seamlessness in the way his work relied on the power of his performers. It is no surprise, then, that he was drawn to Brando, who he directed on stage in Streetcar when he was only 23 and in whom he recognized a true genius. Kazan gave Brando—who he described as the only actor genius he had ever encountered—all the credit for his powerful work in On the Waterfront. Working with him was, in Kazan’s words, “like directing some genius animal.”

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

Brando’s Terry is a sad sack of a character surrounded by others who embody the kind of intensity and vibrancy that he lost years ago. This is particularly true of Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint), the feisty and determined sister of the man Terry helped lure to his death. Terry is immediately attracted to Edie and she to him; they recognize some sense of shared innocence in each other, even though their relationship is tragically overshadowed by Terry withholding the very knowledge that she seeks. He wants to be with her and share in her vitality, but he has to hold back because the one thing he cannot do to help her is come clean regarding his own culpability. This tension also extends to his relationship with Father Barry (Karl Malden), the local parish priest who is determined to help the exploited longshoremen get their fair share even though it means going up against the powerful union that takes advantage of them. Shining a light on the union’s tactics is crucial to undermining their control of the docks, and again Terry finds himself torn about whether to come clean or keep his mouth shut. If he speaks the truth, he will lose what little he has left; but, if he continues to withhold what he knows, he risks the potentially darker and more disturbing fate of remaining tormented by his own silence.

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

Of course, one cannot watch On the Waterfront without taking into account the film’s political context. Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg (who also penned Kazan’s bitter media satire A Face in the Crowd three years later), both of whom had joined and then become disillusioned with the Communist Party in the 1930s, had “named names” during the HUAC investigation into the supposed communist infiltration of the movie industry. To many of his contemporaries, Kazan was a traitor, and his association with the McCarthy era and the damage done to many men’s careers as a result of his testimony stuck with him for decades, to the point that when he was given an honorary achievement Oscar in 1999, there were people in the audience who refused to applaud when he walked on stage flanked by fervent admirers Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.

On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

Thus, there is a tendency to see On the Waterfront as a self-serving parable about the moral responsibility of coming clean; one could see it as Kazan and Schulberg’s silver-screen justification of their own political culpability. Yet, to see the film in only this light is to miss its greater moments and timeless qualities. Shot in gritty black-and-white by Boris Kaufman (L’Atlante, 12 Angry Men) on location in the wintry chill of Hoboken, New Jersey, On the Waterfront is first and foremost a powerful evocation of time and place, bearing with it the kind of rough verisimilitude that often escaped studio-bound Hollywood films. The brilliance of the performances by Brando, Steiger, Malden, and Saint are inextricably linked to the film’s physicality and sense of location; they feel like characters who just stepped off a dock or out of the darkness of a saloon, rather than actors playing their roles. The film’s indelible and permanent political subtext remains, but is overshadowed by the larger humanist concerns, which rightly recognize the thin line between right and wrong and that the ability to choose is what makes us human, even as the consequences of those choices might threaten that very humanity. While some may see Terry as Kazan’s on-screen surrogate Christ figure, taking a beating and still standing up for what he sees as right, he is ultimately a tragic figure of lost opportunity grabbing for the last bit of good he might be able to accomplish in a brutal world—his poignant last chance to be somebody.
On the Waterfront (1954) [The Criterion Collection #647]

Special Features:
- New digital restoration
- Alternate presentations of the restoration in two additional aspect ratios: 1.85:1 (widescreen) and 1.33:1 (full-screen)
- Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack
- Artwork (Complete Scans + Booklet) (83 Mb)

Disc One (7,71 Gb):
- The Film in original aspect ratio: 1.66:1
- Audio commentary by authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young
- New conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones
- Elia Kazan: Outsider (1982), an hour-long documentary
- New cover illustration by Sean Phillips, design by Eric Skillman
- Visual essay on the aspect ratio
- Trailer

Disc Two (7,62 Gb):
- The Film in aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (widescreen)
- New documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with scholar Leo Braudy, critic David Thomson, and others
- New interview with actor Eva Marie Saint
- Interview with director Elia Kazan from 2001
- New interview with longshoreman Thomas Hanley, an actor in the film

Disc Three (7,64 Gb):
- The Film in aspect ratio: 1.33:1 (full-screen)
- Contender: Mastering the Method, a 2001 documentary on the film’s most famous scene
- New interview with author James T. Fisher about the real-life people and places behind the film
- Visual essay on Leonard Bernstein’s score

All Credits goes to Original uploader.


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