“Why call them Goodfellas when they’re the bad guys?” My kids often ask my wife and me what movie we will be watching after they go to bed. My 9 year-old son posed this question to us before we watched Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas. I told him the film was about gangsters and briefly described the life they lead outside the law, prompting his final inquiry into “goodfellas” and “bad guys”; how could good fellas do such bad things? Elia Kazan’s film On the Waterfront is also a gangster film but matches the popular genre story of a gangster trying to leave the lifestyle. Goodfellas is not about leaving the lifestyle but not wanting to leave it to become “an average nobody.” On the Waterfront shows how hoods affect the livelihood of an entire community. Plot and Cast Terry Malloy is an ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman on the New York shipping docks. Malloy does a “job” for the corrupt boss of the longshoreman’s union. He meets Edie and feels responsible for her pain. Father Barry and Edie want to defy the local union boss Lee J. Cobb and ask for Terry’s help, but the rule of witnesses is to play “D and D”: deaf and dumb or in other words, don’t ask don’t tell. Will Terry confront the local mob and his guilt with the help of Edie and Father Barry? On the Waterfront stars method actors Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy and Karl Malden as Father Barry. Also starring were Lee J. Cobb as Johnny Friendly, Rod Steiger as Terry’s brother Charley Malloy, and Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle. Frank Sinatra was originally cast as Terry Malloy, but producer Sam Spiegel wanted Marlon Brando for his proven box office power. On the Waterfront was written as an original story by Budd Schulberg who wrote Elia Kazan’s later film Face in the Crowd (released three years later in 1957). Schulberg also wrote the novel that was the basis for The Harder They Fall, starring Humphrey Bogart and Rod Steiger. Cinematographer Boris Kaufman shot Jean Vigo’s films — best known for 1934’s L’Atalante — and those films are all available in a single blu-ray or two DVD Criterion Collection Edition. Kaufman also shot 12 Angry Men in 1957 also starring Lee J. Cobb and The Fugitive Kind which starred Marlon Brando. Elia Kazan Elia Kazan was the son of Greek parents who emigrated to The United States when he was four years old. He always saw himself as an outsider as a Greek immigrant. He was an actor first before turning to directing. Kazan co-founded The Actors Studio in 1947, and was a supporter of Method Acting. Self-exposure and risks were hallmarks of the acting style Kazan pioneered and nurtured at the Actors Studios in New York. He introduced us to young unknown actors of the time like James Dean and of course Marlon Brando, along with other method actors who worked with Kazan included Karl Malden, Warren Beatty, and Natalie Wood. Kazan’s films were concerned with personal or social issues of special concern to him. Kazan wrote: “I don’t move unless I have some empathy with the basic theme.” East of Eden was the story of Kazan and his father, although he did not realize it until after the film’s release. In some subtle or not-so-subtle way every one of his films is autobiographical. On the Waterfront portrayed anti-Semitism, racial prejudice, and union corruption on the New York harbor waterfront. The political context of the film for Kazan lies in the charge that the film is his response to criticisms for identifying Communists in the film industry. Kazan testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1952 and named eight of his friends from the Group Theater who in the 1930s had been members of the American Communist Party. Screenplay writer Budd Schulberg held that the film is not an answer to criticism, but Kazan claimed it was. Director Stanley Kubrick called Elia Kazan, “without question, the best director we have in America, [and] capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.” The numbers bear this out as under Kazan’s direction, his actors received 21 Academy Award nominations and won nine Oscars. The Soundtrack On the Waterfront’s soundtrack was scored by Leonard Bernstein who was known for his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic and his music for West Side Story, Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town, and On the Town. Film producer Sam Spiegel preferred a known name like Bernstein for this independently produced film. On the Waterfront was the first and only film score Bernstein ever produced. He enjoyed the process but with two queues dropped and others dialed-out during mixing and dialog, he turned down other offers. The score starts with Andante (with dignity) film credits and shifts to Presto barbaro, drums so big we know immediately that a crucial scene opens the film. At first the music seems a bit distractingly loud at times and is very tender at the right moments for Terry Malloy’s scenes with Edie Doyle. Prominent scores were not known in this time, and successive viewings of the film should deepen an appreciation for Bernstein’s work. In 1955 Bernstein adapted the music to a concert suite. Importance/Reception On the Waterfront may have been one of the first films, like Donnie Brasco and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, to show the life of a lower-level gangster. According to the commentary track on the Criterion Edition, Kazan added both the scene where the truck chases Terry and Edie in the alley and the boss watching the court proceedings. We never see the boss’ face, but we are reminded that there are others higher than Johnny Friendly pulling the strings. Our disc commentators, authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young, are not so enamored with the boss scene, but I appreciate that we never see his face. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won eight. The film was an immediate popular success. Actual longshoremen played themselves as extras, and they along with mobsters were there for the screenings. The film features one of the most iconic scenes in all of cinema, featuring Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger in a taxicab. “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.” Director Elia Kazan maintained that he did not direct Brando or Steiger in this scene; he simply stood back and let the two actors direct themselves. The Criterion Disc On the Waterfront is packaged in a cardboard slipcase edition as a three DVD or two blu-ray edition. The film features a 4k digital restoration with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition or an alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. The additional disc(s) feature alternate presentations of the restoration in the 1.85:1 (widescreen) and 1.33:1 (full-screen) aspect ratios. The audio commentary features authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young. The special features include: A new conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones Elia Kazan: Outsider (1982), an hour-long documentary A new documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with scholar Leo Braudy critic David Thomson, and others A new interview with actor Eva Marie Saint An interview with director Elia Kazan from 2001 Contender: Mastering the Method, a 2001 documentary on the film’s most famous scene A new interview with longshoreman Thomas Hanley, an actor in the film A new interview with author James T. Fisher about the real-life people and places behind the film A visual essay on Leonard Bernstein’s score, A visual essay on the aspect ratio A trailer. The gorgeous booklet features an essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda, Kazan’s 1952 defense of his House Un-American Activities Committee testimony, one of the 1948 Malcolm Johnson articles that inspired the film, and a 1953 piece by screenwriter Budd Schulberg. Criterion has again delivered a definitive edition of a classic film, one that should remain a flagship release for their line of releases for some time. Final Thoughts On the Waterfront lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest American films ever made, and becomes more esteemed on each viewing. The film feels like an extension of the golden age of the gangster films from the 1930s into the 1950s but adds the emerging form of realism to the proceedings. The Criterion Edition is one of their rare two-disc blu-ray and three-disc DVD editions. The release includes all three possible aspect ratio presentations in one of Criterion’s top single-film editions that is absolutely must-own. See larger image On the Waterfront (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] New From: $30.02 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.