ON THE WATERFRONT  [The Criterion Collection Special Edition] [Blu-ray] [US Import] Marlon Brando gives the performance of his career as the tough prize-fighter-turned-longshoreman Terry Malloy in this masterpiece of urban poetry, a raggedly emotional tale of individual failure and institutional corruption. ‘On the Waterfront’ charts Terry's deepening moral crisis as he must choose 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 savy streetwise dialogue by Budd Schulberg. ‘On the Waterfront’ was an instant sensation, winning eight Oscars®, including the best picture, director, actor, supporting actress Eva Marie Saint, and screenplay.
FILM FACT: ‘On the Waterfront’ was a critical and commercial success and received 12 Academy Award® nominations, winning eight, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Marlon Brando, Best Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint, and Best Director for Elia Kazan. In 1997 it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the 8th greatest American film of all time. It is Leonard Bernstein's only original film score not adapted from a stage production with songs.
Cast: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Pat Henning, Ben Wagner, James Westerfield, Katherine MacGregor, Fred Gwynne, Leif Erickson, Martin Balsam, Pat Hingle and Nehemiah Persoff
Director: Elia Kazan
Producer: Sam Spiegel
Screenplay: Budd Schulberg
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Video Resolution: 1080p [Black and White]
Aspect Ratios: 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 1.33:1
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English: 1.0 PCM Audio Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 108 minutes
Number of discs: 2
Region: Region A/1
Studio: The Criterion Collection
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: The truly great films have it all and a meaningful story, resonating themes, incisive direction, powerful performances, a literate screenplay, superior cinematography, and a driving narrative force that grabs the attention of an audience and keeps it spellbound from the opening frames to the closing credits. Not many films possess all these elusive components, but 'On the Waterfront' does in spades. Elia Kazan's gripping study of mob corruption along the docks of New York and one man's willingness to stand up against it is that rare cinematic jewel that's blistering and tender, romantic and suspenseful, intelligent and entertaining. Featuring Marlon Brando's finest performance (and that includes Stanley Kowalski in 'A Streetcar Named Desire') and directed with artful realism and keen insight by Elia Kazan, 'On the Waterfront,' almost six decades after it first premiered, remains one of Hollywood's most searing and riveting motion pictures. And this dynamite edition from Criterion gives this unforgettable movie the respect and attention it deserves. The year is still young, but it's impossible to imagine any other classic release eclipsing it.
Ex-boxer Terry Malloy [Marlon Brando] earns an inconsequential living working for waterfront crime boss Johnny Friendly [Lee J. Cobb]. But when he unwittingly lures a rebellious dockworker to his death, Terry Malloy suffers pangs of guilt. Through the love of Edie Doyle [Eva Marie Saint], the murdered man's sister, and the support of Father Barry [Karl Malden], a crime-fighting priest, Terry Malloy finds the moral courage to stand up to Johnny Friendly and his goons and accepts the violent consequences of his decision. "The finest thing ever done by an American film actor" was how director Elia Kazan has characterised the performance of Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’ , the classic tale of crime and corruption among unionized dock workers in New York and New Jersey. Marlon Brando plays Terry Malloy, a washed-up boxer turned longshoreman who witnesses a murder arranged by a union boss and agrees to testify before the Crime Commission.
'On the Waterfront' changed the face of films with its emphasis on naturalistic photography and acting. Shot almost entirely on location in Hoboken, New Jersey and employing a number of actual longshoremen in bit parts and as extras, the film wears its grit on its sleeve, thrusting its viewers into a rough, lower class milieu among real people who perform back-breaking labour for a meagre wage and cow-tow to greedy bosses who bully and exploit them on a daily basis. All the workers abide by the "D and D" (deaf and dumb) code, accepting the culture of corruption and refusing to rat out the powerful syndicate for fear of dire repercussions. Johnny Friendly [Lee J. Cobb] runs the outfit and he's anything but. Blustery and ruthless, he's all about the take, and when Joey Doyle decides to snitch, he sends errand boy Terry Malloy [Marlon Brando] to lure him out of hiding and to his death. The naive Terry is shocked by the swift retribution, "I thought you were just gonna rough him up a little," but Joey's fate fits Terry Malloy's philosophy of life to a T, in saying, "Do it to him before he does it to you."
The horrible deed, however, awakens Terry Malloy's dormant conscience. A former boxer whose promising future was thwarted by the mob, Terry Malloy has since become a thug, languishing in Friendly's posse, his passions and sensitivity quashed by the macho environment and manipulations of his own brother, Charlie the Gent [Rod Steiger], Johnny's right-hand man. His only refuge is the rooftop pigeon coop he tended with Joey, an oasis of solitude in the urban jungle, where his nurturing nature can flourish. Yet when Joey's devastated sister Edie Doyle [Eva Marie Saint] convinces the local priest, Father Barry [Karl Malden], to infiltrate the fraternity and foster positive change, Terry Malloy's loyalty begins to waver. Two police investigators [Leif Erickson and Martin Balsam] also exert pressure on Terry to spill the specifics of Joey's demise, serving him with a subpoena to testify at a city hearing. Whether Terry Malloy will tow his party's line or turn against his crooked compatriots and redeem his guilty soul forms the crux of the drama, as does Terry Malloy's burgeoning romance with Edie Doyle, who knows nothing of his involvement in her brother's death.
Socially conscious without being self-conscious, and a film with a preacher that's not overtly preachy, 'On the Waterfront' defends the right to turn on and turn in one's peers if the informer believes it's morally correct. The story's central dilemma, intentionally or not, strikingly mirrors the quandary Elia Kazan himself faced two years earlier when he notoriously and unapologetically, decided to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee during its rabid investigation into Communist infiltration in the U.S. Of course, Elia Kazan's controversial and unpopular decision to betray former colleagues was seen as an act of cowardice and self-preservation, while Terry's choice is depicted as noble and courageous, but the crisis of conscience the two endured is similar, if coincidental. Though Elia Kazan recognises the parallels, which add fascinating subtext to the story, he denies the notion he made 'On the Waterfront' to justify and absolve his actions.
Such theories, however, only enhance the reputation of this exceptional motion picture, which seamlessly blends elements of film noir, westerns, and documentaries into its rich fabric of characters and situations. Screenwriter Budd Schulberg fashions dialogue that's lyrical, snappy, and endlessly quotable, "He doesn't need a doctor, and he needs a priest." Sure, there's Marlon Brando's iconic and impassioned "I coulda been a contender" speech, but there's also a rousing ovation by Father Barry and heart-breaking tender exchanges between Terry Malloy and Edie Doyle that evoke visceral responses. Furthermore, Budd Schulberg's intensive research into the longshoreman culture yields a host of vivid characters whose attitudes and reactions never feel contrived. Nor does the obvious bird metaphor interpretation. It's no fluke Terry Malloy raises pigeons and may become a stool pigeon himself, but like the habitat of his ornithological friends, his soul is also caged, and he yearns to fly away from the waterfront's all-consuming grime and corruption and break free from its binding chains. Elegance and grace epitomize these birds, and the waifish Edie Doyle exudes the same qualities, which inspire Terry Malloy, who aches for affection, to pursue her.
The location settings brilliantly reflect the hopelessness and despair that engulf the characters, while Elia Kazan's stark imagery lends impact to their respective passions. Boris Kaufman's natural cinematography creates a sombre mood, as he flawlessly captures the grey skies, frigid winter cityscapes, dingy tenements, cramped back rooms, dusty warehouses, and dark alleyways that define the dockside environment. Then tack on the one and only film score from musical genius Leonard Bernstein, which combines screaming progressive jazz with the plaintive moans of a solo horn to produce an accompaniment that's as potent and explosive as the on-screen action.
Marlon Brando also creates fantastic chemistry with Eva Marie Saint in her stunning film debut. Their deep longing and mutual need permeate their magnetic moments together, from the "improvised" glove scene in a park playground to their trepidations personal discovery in the saloon to their passionate embrace in Edie's apartment. Eva Marie Saint's shyness and conviction instantly win us over, and her natural, unassuming style complements Marlon Brando's more meticulous craftsmanship. When Edie says, "But there's a look in his eye" with such tender perception, the line encapsulates Terry Malloy's character and the reading cements their relationship even before it really begins. Both actors justly earned Academy Awards® for their mesmerising work and for creating one of the most believable romances ever committed to celluloid.
'On the Waterfront' is a bona fide masterpiece, the kind of film that moves and inspires without pretence or manipulation. It addresses important issues in an intelligent manner, and its simple, unaffected artistry, alternately bold and nuanced presentation, and finely etched portrayals heighten its palpable impact. Yielding new rewards and kernels of brilliance with each viewing, it's a film to experience and scrutinise over and over again.
Blu-ray Video Quality – 'On the Waterfront' was caught in the crosshairs during a transitional period in cinema history, as studios began developing the widescreen process to combat the encroaching threat of television. When Elia Kazan's film went into production, Columbia Pictures abruptly mandated all its movies be shot so they could be presented in both 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios to accommodate various theatre preferences and projection capabilities. Cinematographer Boris Kaufman, however, cleverly split the difference at 1.66:1, making sure to leave room at the top and bottom of the frame to facilitate a full image. Ironically, though, 'On the Waterfront' has rarely been shown in its preferred format. It premiered in most theatres in 1954 at 1.85:1, which cuts off a bit of information at the top and bottom of the screen. The open-matte 1.33:1 version played exclusively on television and in prior home video releases, but here, for the first time, The Criterion Collection presents all three aspect ratios, so viewers can choose the format they prefer. The 1.66:1 version has been rightfully designated the default format and resides on Disc One. It presents the most pleasing and balanced composition, and is the manner in which both Elia Kazan and Kaufman preferred the film to be viewed. The 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 renditions are both included on Disc Two.
Boris Kaufman's Oscar® winning black-and-white cinematography combines gritty naturalism with core noir elements to produce a stunning image that's always been difficult to faithfully reproduce in the home video realm. The Criterion Collection, however, has done a spectacular job, creating a new digital transfer in 4k resolution on a Oxbury Scanner equipped with wetgate processing from the original 35mm camera negative at Cineric in New York. The colour correction was done at Colorworks in Culver City, California, and the restoration was performed by Cineric using Pixel Farm’s PFClean and DaVinci’s Revival. It's not perfect, but 'On the Waterfront' was never meant to look perfect. Here, the realism is uncompromised, with medium grain enhancing the tenement settings and rough dockside exteriors. Some of the solid backgrounds, especially the sky, appear a little noisy at times, and a few scenes suffer from a nagging bit of softness, but on the whole, the image is clear and well-modulated. Shot in the dead of winter, 'On the Waterfront' captures the frigid conditions with marvellous accuracy, from hazy, monochromatic street scenes to the harsh glare of the sun. You can see the steam emanating from the actors' mouths and feel the textures of the tattered jackets and scuffed hats that adorn the dock workers. The source material is practically spotless, allowing full immersion in the involving tale, and no digital enhancements of deficiencies disrupt the spell. Close-ups caress Brando's iconic face, the unspoiled loveliness of Saint, and the craggy, weathered visages of the downtrodden labourers. Even the wire cages of the pigeon coops are sharp and resist shimmering. Without a doubt, 'On the Waterfront' has never looked better, and this superior The Criterion Collection effort makes this unforgettable film even more powerful than when I saw it released in the cinema.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – Two audio options grace the 'On the Waterfront' disc, offering slightly different soundscapes. The original monaural track was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. The alternate 5.1 surround mix was created at Chase Audio in Los Angeles using the original 35mm magnetic tracks and the original stereo music recording. It most closely resembles what the film sounded like upon its initial release. Aside from a bit of surface noise afflicting the opening credit sequence, the track is free of any age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackles, and pumps out solid audio. Sometimes the music overpowers the action and dialogue, plus a deficiency of the film's original mix and a fact that really upset Elia Kazan over the years, but only a few lines are lost as a result. Leonard Bernstein's innovative and highly active score does test the limits of the dynamic scale, with its bombastic highs and mellow lows, but no distortion creeps in, and the horns and strings sound wonderfully pure, bright, and full. Dialogue can be problematic at times, but that's mostly due to the mumbling of Marlon Brando and the longshoremen, as well as their New York dialects and the music crescendos. Bass frequencies are strong, with elements such as foghorns and truck rumbles wielding appropriate weight, and accents like shattering glass and screeching tires are crisp and distinct. This mix sounds a bit smoother and warmer than the monaural track, even though most of the audio is still anchored up front. Dialogue issues are identical, but the music possesses a broader feel with the addition of the rear speakers. Nuances are also a bit more pronounced, with ambient bar noise and exterior atmospherics easier to pick up. While some manufactured 5.1 tracks sound processed and artificial, this one seamlessly blends into the film's fabric. Both audio options supply high-quality sound that beautifully complements this film classic and honours the only film score of composer Leonard Bernstein. I recommend giving both a try and deciding for yourself which one you prefer.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
NEW 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition.
Alternate presentations of the feature restoration in two additional aspect ratios: 1.85:1 [widescreen] and 1.33:1 [full-screen].
Alternate surround soundtrack, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition.
Audio Commentary: Commentary featuring authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young: A terrific commentary by film critic and historian Richard Schickel and author Jeff Young, both of whom have interviewed and written books on Elia Kazan, provides a wealth of fascinating insights, anecdotes, and bits of trivia concerning this classic picture and Elia Kazan's personal connection to it. The two men talk about the film's ripped-from-the-headlines background, bitterly cold shoot, authentic locations, and Marlon Brando's genius. Schickel calls 'On the Waterfront' "the last great black-and-white movie" and "apotheosis of Actor's Studio acting," while both discuss how the story paralleled Elia Kazan's own experiences with the House Un-American Activities Committee and quote their respective conversations with Elia Kazan. They compare Elia Kazan's penchant for cool blondes to Hitchcock's similar obsession, examine the movie's often "artless" presentation, and note Frank Sinatra was originally slated to play Terry Malloy. (One can only shudder to think how that would have turned out.) This is a great dialogue between two intelligent film scholars, and their relaxed demeanour and comfortable chemistry make the track fly by. Many commentaries are just a bunch of hot air; this one's a breath of fresh air, and well worth a listen.
NEW conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones [18:00] In this 2012 discussion, Scorsese and Jones, who co-directed the documentary 'A Letter to Elia,' reflect on Elia Kazan's masterwork. Scorsese dominates the conversation, remembering the profound effect 'On the Waterfront' had on him as a young boy and his "special connection" to it. In addition to talking about the film's music, photography, and locations, the two men compare the movie to 'Force of Evil' and 'Citizen Kane,' and examine the similarities between Marlon Brando and another legendary cinema anti-hero, John Garfield.
Special Feature Documentary: Elia Kazan: Outsider  [53:00] "A mass of ambivalence" is how Kazan describes himself in this probing 1982 profile that provides an intimate look at the man and his career. Composed almost entirely of comments by Kazan taken from a series of interviews with French film critic Michel Ciment, the documentary allows the director the opportunity to expound on his Turkish immigrant background, tenure at The Group Theatre, and the genesis of the famed Actor's Studio, which he co-founded. Kazan explains the finer points of method acting, recalls working with Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro, recounts how he cast James Dean in 'East of Eden,' defends his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and discusses his various novels and personal relationships. Unfortunately, only clips from 'Baby Doll' and 'America, America' are used to illustrate his work, but Elia Kazan's frank remarks and vibrant personality keep this well-made portrait lively and interesting.
Special Feature Documentary: I'm Standin' Over Here Now: Reconsidering 'On the Waterfront' [45:00] Another strong documentary, this 2012 collection of interviews with five noted authors, editors, and film scholars covers all aspects of 'On the Waterfront,' from its earliest origins (playwright Arthur Miller first brought the idea of a longshoreman movie to Elia Kazan) all the way through the film's premiere, success, and legacy. Much attention is given to analysing Elia Kazan's character, his suspicious nature, association with the Communist party, and decision to name names. (Author David Thomson believes Elia Kazan blossomed artistically in the years following his testimony, noting "Being a better artist sometimes means being a worse human being.") We also learn about the real-life figures upon whom some of the characters are based, screenwriter Budd Schulberg's extensive first-hand research, how the film delicately strives to advance civil rights, and how the naturalism of 'On the Waterfront' impacted actors and their profession. All the major performances are meticulously examined, as well as the striking cinematography and the movie's "acute sense of place." Though somewhat static visually, this is nevertheless an absorbing and informative documentary that no fan of this classic should miss.
Special Feature Interview: Eva Marie Saint [11:00] Still beautiful at age 88, Eva Marie Saint sits down to reminisce about 'On the Waterfront' and her experiences making her debut film in this 2012 interview. She recalls her initial nerves, her chemistry with Marlon Brando, and how, contrary to popular belief, the famous glove scene resulted from a mishap that occurred during rehearsal and not during shooting and was recreated on screen. Eva Marie Saint considers Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan the best actor and director with whom she ever worked, and describes how the scene in which she and Brando are pursued by a speeding truck ended up being more realistic (and frightening) than Eva Marie Saint anticipated. She also compares Elia Kazan's directing style to that of Alfred Hitchcock, who guided her through 'North by Northwest,' in this wonderfully nostalgic and sincere conversation.
Special Feature Interview: Elia Kazan [12:00] In this 2001 interview with film critic and historian Richard Schickel, the director lauds the 'On the Waterfront' screenplay as "perfect," and says of the movie as a whole, "This was as close [as I ever came] to making a film exactly the way I wanted it." Elia Kazan remembers "hanging out in Hoboken" to absorb the attitudes of the dock workers and meeting a real-life prototype of Terry Malloy; how producer Darryl F. Zanuck, despite his penchant for socially conscious pictures, refused to bankroll the production; and how eventual producer Sam Spiegel drove writer Budd Schulberg crazy with script revisions, but the two rose above the antagonisms to create a terrific work. Elia Kazan admires the uncanny manner in which Marlon Brando could balance brutal toughness with a delicate tenderness, and confesses the iconic cab scene that features the immortal line, "I coulda been a contender," was basically self-directed by Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger. Elia Kazan always has a very kinetic presence, and here, even at age 92, he's as clear-headed and feisty as ever.
Special Feature Documentary: Contender: Mastering the Method [25:00] 'On the Waterfront' was the first film to fully showcase method acting, and this 2001 feature scrutinises the famous taxicab scene between Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger that epitomises the philosophy. Critic Richard Schickel, TV host James Lipton, actor Martin Landau, Marlon Brando biographer Patricia Bosworth, author Jeff Young, and Rod Steiger himself analyse the scene from every angle, discussing its slapdash shooting, various nuances, Brando's inherent insecurities, Rod Steiger's anger over having to shoot his close-ups with a stand-in (Marlon Brando was dismissed early that day so he could see his shrink), and the basic tenets of “The Method.” Rarely does any single sequence from any film deserve such attention, but this one does, and this piece honours it to the fullest.
Special Feature Interview: Thomas Hanley [12:00] 'On the Waterfront' employed many local Hoboken non-actors, and Thomas Hanley was one of them. He portrays young Tommy Collins, the tenement boy who helps Terry tend his rooftop pigeon coop and becomes disillusioned when Terry turns snitch. In this revealing 2012 interview, Hanley looks back at his experiences, recalling how he lived in the building where much of the movie was shot, how he was cast, the embarrassment he felt about acting in a film, the familiar Hoboken locations, and how Kazan purposely antagonised him to provoke emotion. He also shares his fond memories of Brando, and details his 50-plus-year tenure as an actual longshoreman (he joined the ranks at age 16, just two years after 'On the Waterfront' premiered) and the corruption that existed then and continues to this day. With candour and insight, Hanley provides another unique perspective that enhances this enduring classic.
Special Feature Documentary: Who Is Mr. Big? [26:00] Author and waterfront expert James T. Fisher chronicles the fascinating real-life history behind Elia Kazan's film. We learn how Irish immigrants dominated the port and made it their "fiefdom," creating a hierarchy that both protected and exploited the workers, and how the self-regulating system hinged on a code of silence that brushed nefarious deeds and illegalities under the rug. James T. Fisher also discusses the birth of the waterfront priest, the explosive public hearings generated by a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles by Malcolm Johnson (which inspired Budd Schulberg to write his screenplay), and links historical figures, such as Father Pete Corridan, Joe Ryan, and Bill McCormick (the prototype for the mob boss seen fleetingly after Terry's testimony), to their fictional counterparts in the movie. (Terry Malloy is a composite of many characters Budd Schulberg encountered during his exhaustive immersion in the longshoreman culture.) Though conditions have improved on the docks over time, Fisher explains how the workers ultimately refused to end the corruption when they had the chance, allowing the Johnny Friendly's of the world to reclaim their position of power despite the efforts of Terry Malloys and Father Barrys. This 2012 documentary is another first-class offering from The Criterion Collection that provides essential background and context necessary to fully understand and appreciate 'On the Waterfront.'
Special Feature Video Essay: Jon Burlingame on Leonard Bernstein's Score [20:00] The legendary composer only wrote one film score during his storied career, and it was for 'On the Waterfront.' This absorbing video essay examines the "ground-breaking" nature of the music through the three major themes and how they complement the action and dovetail during key moments. We also learn Leonard Bernstein played jazz piano during the bar scene; both Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg complained about the score, but respect it; and possible reasons why Bernstein didn't win the Oscar for his work. Film clips and stills illustrate the various points and engender additional admiration for the potent and moving music.
Special Feature Documentary: On the Aspect Ratio [5:00] This fascinating documentary examines the multiple aspect ratios of 'On the Waterfront' and how cinematographer Boris Kaufman shot the film using the "shoot and protect" technique to allow it to be exhibited in various formats. Examples of each ratio are shown, along with a discussion of their respective pros and cons. Cine aficionados will definitely want to check this one out.
Theatrical Trailer [3:00] The original preview for 'On the Waterfront' touts the picture's greatness, but also amusingly terms its story "as warm and moving as 'Going My Way' (but with brass knuckles!)." What advertising hack wrote that ridiculous copy?
BONUS: A stunning booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Almereyda, entitled “Everybody Part of Everybody Else.” We get a reprint of Elia Kazan's 1952 advert entitled “A Statement” in the New York Times defending his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. One of the 1948 New York Sun articles by Malcolm Johnson, entitled “Ryan, President Of Ila, Denies Lawlessness On City’s Press [Says There Is No Racket]” on which the film was based. Finally, we have a 1953 piece by screenwriter Budd Schulberg entitled, “Waterfront Preist” that was printed in the Commonweal Magazine.
Finally, The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray edition of 'On the Waterfront' easily leads the pack in the race for 2013's best classic release. Elia Kazan's scorching study of blue-collar corruption and the lone wolf who dares to break ranks and expose the mob's dirty deeds remains relevant, riveting, and deeply affecting almost six decades after it first wowed its way to eight Oscars®, including Best Picture. Like the best films, it satisfies on many levels, kicking us in the gut, tugging our heart strings, and forcing us to think about and reflect on a variety of substantive themes. It also inspires unabashed admiration for the sheer talent on display in front of and behind the camera. From the opening frames straight through to its brutal and inspiring finish, 'On the Waterfront' proves its way more than a contender; it's one of Hollywood's truly great films, and an absolute must own, as it is the ultimate version you will ever have and I am so proud and honoured to have this in my ever increasing The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Library Collection. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom