The movie is about Terry Malloy and his experiences with the corrupt dock workers union. The boss, Johnny Friendly, is involved in murders but no one will testify against him, because they are afraid of the consequences of doing so. Terry feels the pull of his conscious, knowing that it is right to testify against the wrong things that Friendly has done, especially after having been greatly screwed over by Friendly before.
Ebert knows so much about this film's history that I had no idea about, seeing as I had basically never heard about this movie before. He writes about the actual meaning behind the film, saying, "This was the film made in 1954 by Elia Kazan after he agreed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, named former associates who were involved with the Communist Party and became a pariah in left-wing circles.``On the Waterfront'' was, among other things, Kazan's justification for his decision to testify. In the film, when a union boss shouts, ``You ratted on us, Terry,'' the Brando character shouts back: ``I'm standing over here now. I was rattin' on myself all those years. I didn't even know it.'' That reflects Kazan's belief that communism was an evil that temporarily seduced him, and had to be opposed. Brando's line finds a dramatic echo in A Life, Kazan's 1988 autobiography, where he writes of his feelings after the film won eight Oscars, including best picture, actor, actress and director: ``I was tasting vengeance that night and enjoying it. `On the Waterfront' is my own story; every day I worked on that film, I was telling the world where I stood and my critics to go and - - - - themselves.'' (The Great Movies, 239).
I hate to use such a huge quote, but it's much more interesting to hear this bit of history than to hear me go on about how "I liked the acting, durfff" again. Like I said, I was almost glad that I read that after I saw it, so I wasn't thinking it the whole movie and was just focused on the plot and the acting and liking it for what it is. Since I don't know anyone who has yet to watch a movie at my recommendation, I don't feel bad posting it either, since I'm assuming most people won't go out and see it. For me, I did just like the movie on a surface level at first. Brando's acting was incredible, and I haven't seen a lot of his older work, so it was fun and interesting to watch it. Ebert writes that the movie feels dated, and while it does, I forgave it for being dated because I was more involved in watching Brando than anything else.
I think the movie is really worth checking out. It was really good, the story was good, and made more interesting from the history that Ebert brings into it. His whole essay is really informative and worth reading, it really enriched my experience of seeing this movie. If you check out the film, let me know!
Have any of you seen On the Waterfront? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on On The Waterfront