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Elia Kazan
Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Pat Henning
Writing Credits:
Malcolm Johnson (suggested by articles), Budd Schulberg (and story)

The Man Lived by the Jungle Law of the Docks!

Marlon Brando gives one of the screen's most electrifying performances as Best Actor in this 1954 Academy Award® winner for Best Film. Ex-fighter Terry Malloy (Brando) could have been a contender, but now toils for boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) on the gang-ridden waterfront. Terry is guilt-stricken, however, when he lures a rebellious worker to his death. But it takes the love of Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint), the dead man's sister, to show Terry how low he has fallen. When his crooked brother Charley the Gent (Rod Steiger) is brutally murdered for refusing to kill him, Terry battles to crush Friendly's underworld empire. Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg, this unforgettable drama about Terry's redemption is among the most acclaimed of all films.

Box Office:
$910.000 thousand.
Domestic Gross
$9.600 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 2/19/2013

Disc One:
• Audio Commentary with Film Critic/Author Richard Schickel and Elia Kazan Biographer Jeff Young
• Conversation Between Director Martin Scorsese and Critic Kent Jones
• “Elia Kazan: An Outsider” 1982 Documentary
• “’I’m Standin’ Over Here Now” Featurette
• Interview with Actor Eva Marie Saint
• Interview with Actor Thomas Hanley
• Interview with Director Elia Kazan
• “Who Is Mr. Big?” Featurette
• “Contender: Mastering the Method” Featurette
• “Leonard Bernstein’s Score” Featurette
• “On the Aspect Ratio” Featurette
• Trailer
Disc Two:
• Alternate 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 Presentations of the Film

• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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On The Waterfront: Criterion Colllection [Blu-Ray] (1954)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 8, 2013)

Listed at number 19 on the most recent AFI’s list, 1954’s On the Waterfront focuses on Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), a low-life ex-boxer who works on the docks and also does some jobs for local mobster Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). At the start, he tricks coworker Joey Doyle so that some enforcers can put a scare into him.

Instead, they toss Joey off of the roof, and Terry feels haunted by his complicity in this scheme. After Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) confronts him, local priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) takes on local corruption despite the vicious opposition of Friendly and his goons.

Terry remains conflicted. On one hand, he hates what happened to Joey and the events that start to affect other workers, and he also finds himself falling for Edie. However, Terry also experiences genuine fondness for Friendly, and it doesn’t help that his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is part of Friendly’s gang. Terry grew up with the attitude that one should never rat on another guy, but the temptation becomes immense.

Essentially Waterfront provides a character piece that shows the battle for Terry’s soul. Granted, it follows the positive side a little more clearly, as Father Barry and Edie get more screen time than do Friendly and Charley.

However, that wasn’t a storytelling flaw. There was no need to show the negatives as strongly, for they’re neatly built in to the film’s subtext. It’s obvious that Friendly and the others already have their grips on Terry; the question is if his new enlightenment can take hold.

Of particular note is Brando’s justly celebrated performance as Terry. He never demeans the character to the depths other might sink. After all, he’s an uneducated lout, but Brando brings a sense of strength and realism to the role that makes him three-dimensional. All the others do fine work as well, but Brando stands out with this career-defining part.

Waterfront also helped define the career of director Elia Kazan, and it’s a very interesting flick to watch against its historical background. In April 1952, Kazan “named names” of eight members of the communist party in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a choice that haunted him until his death; when he received a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1999, many protested this due to his testimony.

Waterfront comes across as a justification of his choice. From what I know, Kazan essentially denies that the two had much to do with each other, but it’s hard to see the subject in any other way. Terry is shown to do the right thing when he decides to rat out his former friends, and I’m sure that Kazan felt the threat of communism equaled - or surpassed - the more palpable danger of these hoods.

While I don’t support Kazan’s decision, I’m not as quick to condemn him as others have been. Times were different 60 years ago, and he may really have thought that he was doing the most socially appropriate thing instead of simply bowing to public pressures.

With or without that subtext, On the Waterfront offers a strong experience. The movie provides a touching and gritty look at a conflicted man, and it’s accentuated by stellar acting, especially from Marlon Brando. Waterfront is a memorable affair that’s held up well over the decades.

Footnote: I couldn’t help but wonder how much Waterfront influenced Sylvester Stallone. The parallels between it and 1976’s Rocky are strong. Rocky and Terry are dopey bums who work for criminals, and they both get a shot at some sort of redemption. I’d be shocked to learn that Waterfront wasn’t part of the Rocky equation.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

On the Waterfront appears in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A challenging movie to bring to home video, the Blu-ray reproduced it well.

Sharpness generally appeared acceptably distinct and accurate. On some occasions, softness crept into the image, but those instances seemed minor and appeared to be an outgrowth of the source photography. Usually the movie looked well defined and concise. No moiré effects and a few jagged edges showed up along the way, and the film lacked edge haloes. Given the prominent grain seen throughout the flick, it became obvious that it didn’t suffer from oppressive digital noise reduction techniques.

Black levels were deep and dense, and contrast looked good; the heavy grain affected that element to a degree – especially during interiors – but overall this was a well-displayed image. Shadows seemed smooth and clear, and the film lacked print flaws; it looked clean and clear. I felt pleased with this accurate portrayal of the source.

I doubt that any Waterfront fans clamored for the film to get a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix, but here it is anyway! The expanded soundfield remained reasonably restrained, at least, so it didn’t distract from the drama. Music broadened to the side and rear speakers in a moderate manner. Stereo separation never seemed great, but the other channels gave the score a little greater breadth that suited it fairly well.

I noticed some mildly – and slightly awkwardly – localized speech, and occasional effects also emanated from the sides. Scenes at the docks opened up in a decent manner, and other “action” sequences like the attack on the church added some involvement to the mix. I didn’t hear much from the surrounds throughout the film; they bolstered things in a general way and that was about it.

Audio quality was fine for its age. Dialogue came across in a manner that showed a little too much reverb, but the speech offered fairly good clarity for the most part. I heard no significant edginess, and intelligibility was solid. Effects demonstrated nice distinctiveness and accuracy; though they offered some of the same tinniness found in the dialogue, they also provided reasonable depth.

The film’s score functioned best of all. It also contained some drab tones, but it displayed nice breadth at times. The rhythmic aspects of the music worked best, as drums thumped quite well. I heard no problems related to background noise of any sort; the audio seemed clean. Overall, the soundtrack of On the Waterfront was pretty good for its age.

Note that the Blu-ray also provided the film’s original monaural soundtrack. While I felt pleased with the 5.1 remix, I preferred the mono version. It wasn’t quite as bold as the DTS-HD version, but it came across as more accurate, especially in terms of speech; the lines lacked the mild echo found on the 5.1 edition and seemed more concise. You’ll be happy with either soundtrack, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to recommend the 5.1 mix when the movie didn’t benefit from the expanded soundscape.

How did the Blu-ray compare to those of the 2008 “Best Pictures Collection” Edition? Audio was a bit clearer and more dynamic, but I didn’t hear substantial differences. However, the visuals came across as cleaner, tighter and more film-like. This was a significant step up in quality.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. We start with an audio commentary from Time magazine critic and author Richard Schickel and Elia Kazan biographer Jeff Young. Created for the original 2001 DVD, both men were recorded together for this running, occasionally screen-specific track. I included the latter disclaimer because the two periodically discuss the material on the screen, but they spend most of their time with other topics.

On the negative side, this was a somewhat cacophonous commentary. At times it felt more like two running monologues instead of a discussion between peers. It seemed that each man spent his quiet moments trying to barge back in to the conversation, and the two speak on top of each other quite frequently. They needed a mediator to keep them calm enough to let the other one finish his sentence.

Nonetheless, the information offered in the track seemed very good. Schickel and Young cover a lot of aspects of the production, but they mainly concentrate on interpretation and subtext. Of course, this includes some material about Kazan’s HUAC testimony, but it goes into many other areas as well. Of particular note was a great discussion of Brando’s abilities and issues. Overall, this commentary was somewhat disorganized, but it still added a lot of good material to the table.

A new chat between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones runs 17 minutes, 34 seconds. They discuss the cinema of the early 1950s, the characters and settings of Waterfront as well as cast/performances, music and some other film elements. Essentially Jones interviews Scorsese and we get an appreciation for Waterfront. Enough insights result to make this a worthwhile piece.

After this comes a 1982 documentary entitled Elia Kazan: An Outsider. It fills 53 minutes, 14 seconds with info from Kazan himself; we also get short notes from actor Robert De Niro. The program mostly gives Kazan’s memories of his life and career. Then 72, Kazan remained headstrong and feisty, especially when he discussed controversial elements. The pacing of the show can sag at times, and “Outsider” lacks a clear path, but it still delivers an involving look at the director.

Under I’m Standin’ Over Here Now, we find another documentary. Created in 2012, it occupies 45 minutes and features USC’s Leo Braudy, Kazan Revisited editor Lisa Dombrowski, Cineaste editor Dan Georgakas, Naming Names author Victor Navasky and film scholar David Thomson. They cover Kazan’s biography, the creation of “The Method”, Kazan’s connection to the Communist party, aspects of the development of Waterfront, Kazan’s “naming names” testimony and the fallout from it, script/story topics, characters and cast, shooting the film, the movie’s release, reception and legacy. “Now” covers a variety of elements in a concise, engaging manner that makes it a consistent winner.

Next come two interviews with actors. We hear from Eva Marie Saint (11:10) and Thomas Hanley (12:00). Saint talks about her career and specifics of working with Kazan and Brando as well as other thoughts about Waterfront; she gives us an insightful look at her experiences. Hanley was a kid who lived in one of the buildings where Waterfront was shot and he finagled a part due to proximity; he chats about his life before and after the film and what he went through during the shoot. This was his only role and he adds some interesting thoughts about his perspective.

A 2001 Interview with Elia Kazan comes from that year’s DVD. The director offered a decent little synopsis of the film’s origins and the production in this 12-minute piece. He proved to be quite frank, as when he referred to producer Sam Spiegel as a “terrible, terrible guy”, and he added a lot of useful information about the film. By this point, some of the material was redundant, but after an audio commentary and a documentary, that was inevitable. The Kazan interview was still informative and useful.

Who Is Mr. Big? runs 25 minutes, 46 seconds and features an interview with On the Irish Waterfront author James T. Fisher. He discusses the historical background for the situations and characters found in the movie. This becomes a tight, useful take on the movie’s influences.

Found on the 2008 DVD, we get a featurette called Contender: Mastering the Method. This 25-minute and four-second program largely focuses on the movie’s famous “I coulda been a contender!” sequence. It offers film clips, archival elements and then-new interview snippets with actors Rod Steiger and Martin Landau as well as a mix of critics and film buffs like Inside the Actor’s Studio host James Lipton, Richard Schickel, Jeff Young, David Garfield, and Patricia Bosworth.

Some may dislike the emphasis on the one scene, but I thought it worked well. It was interesting to get into that snippet so deeply, and “Contender” included a lot of compelling analysis and notes about the film. For the record, some other topics came up as well, but the show really did concentrate mostly on the “contender” scene. Overall, it was a solid little examination of this segment.

With Leonard Bernstein’s Score, we watch a 20-minute, five-second chat with critic Jon Burlingame. As expected, he chats about work on the film and gives us notes about the score. Burlingame gives us a good dissection of the music and its integration into the movie.

In addition to the film’s trailer, Disc One ends with a featurette called On the Aspect Ratio. This goes for five minutes, 11 seconds and talks about the malleable dimensions via which Waterfront was exhibited. It lets us know the relevant issues and shows some examples of the different ratios.

The last component becomes especially important given the content on Disc Two. While Disc One – the “main presentation” of the film – chooses 1.66:1 as “correct”, Disc Two lets us view the other options, as it provides both 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 framings of the movie.

These can be viewed with the same monaural or DTS-HD MA 5.1 mixes found on Disc One. Picture quality appears to be identical among all three framings, so the movie will look go no matter which you select. Prior DVDs offered solely the 1.33:1 option, so it’s nice to have the choice.

As always, Criterion gives us a booklet. In this 44-page piece, we get an essay from filmmaker Michael Almereyda, “A Statement” offered by Elia Kazan in 1952 that discussed his Congressional testimony, a 1948 Malcolm Johnson article that connects to the film’s historical influences, and a Budd Schulberg piece about Father John Corridan, the person on whom the movie’s Father Pete Barry was based. Criterion usually creates good booklets, but this one’s even better than most.

On the Waterfront hit movie screens almost 60 years ago, but it still maintains a lot of power and grit. The film works well for a number of reasons, but Marlon Brando’s stellar acting remains its calling card. The Blu-ray presents very good picture and audio along with a strong collection of bonus materials. Without question, this becomes easily the best version of Waterfront on the market.

To rate this film visit Special Edition review of ON THE WATERFRONT

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main