World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

On the Waterfront

Article Id: WHEBN0000042361
Reproduction Date:

Title: On the Waterfront  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 27th Academy Awards, Elia Kazan, List of actors who have appeared in multiple Best Picture Academy Award winners, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando
Collection: 1950S Drama Films, 1954 Films, American Drama Films, American Films, Best Drama Picture Golden Globe Winners, Best Picture Academy Award Winners, Black-and-White Films, Compositions by Leonard Bernstein, English-Language Films, Films About the Labor Movement, Films Based on Newspaper and Magazine Articles, Films Directed by Elia Kazan, Films Featuring a Best Actor Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Drama Actor Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Produced by Sam Spiegel, Films Set in New Jersey, Films Shot in New Jersey, Films Whose Art Director Won the Best Art Direction Academy Award, Films Whose Cinematographer Won the Best Cinematography Academy Award, Films Whose Director Won the Best Director Academy Award, Films Whose Director Won the Best Director Golden Globe, Films Whose Editor Won the Best Film Editing Academy Award, Films Whose Writer Won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, Irish-American Media, Mafia Films, Union Violence, United States National Film Registry Films
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Written by Budd Schulberg
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Cinematography Boris Kaufman
Edited by Gene Milford
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • July 28, 1954 (1954-07-28)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $910,000
Box office $9,600,000

On the Waterfront is a 1954 American crime drama film about corruption, extortion, and racketeering on the waterfronts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

On the Waterfront was a critical and commercial success and received 12 Academy Award nominations, winning eight, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Brando, Best Supporting Actress for Saint, and Best Director for Kazan. In 1997 it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the eighth-greatest American movie of all time. It is Bernstein's only original film score not adapted from a stage production with songs.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Political context 3.1
  • Reception 4
  • Awards 5
  • Home media 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) gloats about his iron-fisted control of the waterfront. The police and the Waterfront Crime Commission know that Friendly is behind a number of murders, but witnesses play "D and D" ("deaf and dumb"), accepting their subservient position rather than risking the danger and shame of informing.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a dockworker whose brother Charley "The Gent" (Rod Steiger) is Friendly's right-hand man. Some years earlier, Terry had been a promising boxer, until Friendly had Charley instruct him to deliberately lose a fight that he could have won, so that Friendly could win money betting against him.

Terry meets and is smitten by Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the sister of Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner). She has shamed "waterfront priest" Father Barry (Karl Malden) into fomenting action against the mob-controlled union. Terry is used to coax Joey, a popular dockworker, into an ambush, preventing him from testifying against Friendly before the Crime Commission. Terry assumed that Friendly's enforcers were only going to "lean" on Joey in an effort to pressure him to avoid talking, and is surprised when Joey is killed. Although Terry resents being used as a tool in Joey's death, and despite Father Barry's impassioned "sermon on the docks" reminding the longshoremen that Christ walks among them and that every murder is a Calvary, Terry is nevertheless willing to remain "D and D".

Soon both Edie and Father Barry urge Terry to testify. Another dockworker, Timothy J. "Kayo" Dugan (Pat Henning), who agrees to testify after Father Barry's promise of unwavering support, ends up dead after Friendly arranges for him to be crushed by a load of whiskey in a staged accident.

As Terry, tormented by his awakening conscience, increasingly leans toward testifying, Friendly decides that Terry must be killed unless Charley can coerce him into keeping quiet. Charley tries bribing Terry with a good job and finally threatens Terry by holding a gun against him, but recognizes that he has failed to sway Terry, who places the blame for his own downward spiral on his well-off brother. In what has become an iconic scene, Terry reminds Charley that had it not been for the fixed fight, Terry's career would have bloomed. "I coulda' been a contender", laments Terry to his brother, "Instead of a bum, which is what I am – let's face it." Charley gives Terry the gun and advises him to run. Friendly, having had Charley watched, has Charley murdered, his body hanged in an alley as bait to get at Terry. Terry sets out to shoot Friendly, but Father Barry obstructs that course of action and finally convinces Terry to fight Friendly by testifying.

After the testimony, Friendly announces that Terry will not find employment anywhere on the waterfront. Edie tries persuading him to leave the waterfront with her, but he nonetheless shows up during recruitment at the docks. When he is the only man not hired, Terry openly confronts Friendly, calling him out and proclaiming that he is proud of what he did.

Finally the confrontation develops into a vicious brawl, with Terry getting the upper hand until Friendly's thugs gang up on Terry and nearly beat him to death. The dockworkers, who witnessed the confrontation, declare their support for Terry and refuse to work unless Terry is working too. Finally, the badly wounded Terry forces himself to his feet and enters the dock, followed by the other longshoremen despite Friendly's threats.


Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy with Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle


On the Waterfront was filmed over 36 days on location in various places in Hoboken, New Jersey, including the docks, workers' slum dwellings, bars, littered alleys, and rooftops. Furthermore, some of the labor boss's goons in the film—Abe Simon as Barney, Tony Galento as Truck, and Tami Mauriello as Tullio—were actual former professional heavyweight boxers.

Terry Malloy's (Brando's) fight against corruption was in part modeled after whistle-blowing longshoreman Anthony DiVincenzo, who testified before a real-life Waterfront Commission on the facts of life on the Hoboken Docks and suffered a degree of ostracism for his deed. DiVincenzo sued and settled, many years after, with Columbia Pictures over the appropriation of what he considered his story. DiVincenzo claimed to have recounted his story to screenwriter Budd Schulberg during a month-long session of waterfront barroom meetings. Schulberg attended DiVincenzo's waterfront commission testimony every day during the hearing.

Karl Malden's character, Father Barry, was based on the real-life "waterfront priest" Father John M. Corridan, S.J., a Jesuit priest, graduate of Regis High School who operated a Roman Catholic labor school on the west side of Manhattan. Father Corridan was interviewed extensively by Budd Schulberg, who wrote the foreword to a biography of Father Corridan, Waterfront Priest, by Allen Raymond. The church used for the exterior scenes in the film was the historic Our Lady of Grace in Hoboken, built in 1874, while the interiors were shot at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, also in Hoboken, at 400 Hudson Street.[1]

Political context

The film is widely considered to be Kazan's answer to those who criticized him for identifying eight (former) Communists in the film industry before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1952. Kazan's critics included his friend and collaborator, the noted playwright Arthur Miller, who had written the original screenplay—titled The Hook—for the film that would become On the Waterfront. Miller was replaced by Budd Schulberg, also a witness before HUAC.[2]

Budd Schulberg later published a novel simply titled Waterfront that was much closer to his original screenplay than the version released on screen. Among several differences is that Terry Malloy is brutally murdered.


Upon its release, the film received positive reviews from critics and was a commercial success, earning an estimated $4.2 million in rentals at the North American box office in 1954.[3] In his July 29, 1954, review, New York Times critic A. H. Weiler hailed the film as a masterpiece, calling it "an uncommonly powerful, exciting, and imaginative use of the screen by gifted professionals."[4]

In 1989, the film was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Film critic Roger Ebert lauded the film, stating that Brando and Kazan changed acting in American movies forever, and then added it to his "Great Movies" list.

It is also on the Vatican's list of 45 greatest films, compiled in 1995.[5]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 55 reviews and gave the film a score of 100%, with an average rating of 9.1 out of 10.[6]


Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy and Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle in the film's trailer
Karl Malden as Father Barry with Eva Marie Saint.
Academy Awards

On the Waterfront was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won eight of them.[7]
Award Result Winner
Best Motion Picture Won Sam Spiegel, producer
Best Director Won Elia Kazan
Best Actor Won Marlon Brando
Best Story and Screenplay Won Budd Schulberg
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Lee J. Cobb
Winner was Edmond O'BrienThe Barefoot Contessa
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Karl Malden
Winner was Edmond O'Brien – The Barefoot Contessa
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Rod Steiger
Winner was Edmond O'Brien – The Barefoot Contessa
Best Supporting Actress Won Eva Marie Saint
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Black-and-White Won Richard Day
Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) Won Boris Kaufman
Best Film Editing Won Gene Milford
Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Nominated Leonard Bernstein
Winner was Dimitri TiomkinThe High and the Mighty

After Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor, it was stolen and did not turn up until much later, when a London auction house contacted him and informed him of its whereabouts. Before that he had been using it to help hold his front door open.

American Film Institute recognition

Home media

The first home video release of the film was in 1984, on VHS and Beta. The first DVD version was released in 2001. Among the special features is the featurette "Contender: Mastering the Method," a video photo gallery, an interview with Elia Kazan, an audio commentary, filmographies, production notes, and theatrical trailers. The film has been added to the Criterion Collection.



  1. ^ Alleman, Richard. The Movie Lover's Guide to New York. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. ISBN 0060960809, p.10-11
  2. ^ Haas, Geneveive (November 21, 2006). "Dartmouth acquires Budd Schulberg '36 papers". Dartmouth News. Retrieved January 6, 2007. 
  3. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety (January 5, 1955)
  4. ^ Weiler, A. H. "Movie Review: On the Waterfront" New York Times (July 29, 1954)
  5. ^ "Vatican Best Films List". USCCB. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  6. ^ "On the Waterfront".  
  7. ^ "On the Waterfront". New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 


  • Raymond, Allen, Waterfront Priest (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1955); forward by On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg

Further reading

  • Rapf, Joanna E. (2003). On the Waterfront. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.