Classic Movie Countdown: Best Picture # 2 — On the Waterfront (1954)

2. On the Waterfront (1954)

Other Nominated Films:
The Canine Mutiny, The Country Girl, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Three Coins in the Fountain

This isn’t the first Elia Kazan film to make an appearance on this list: Gentleman’s Agreement won Best Picture in 1948 (#26 on the list). When talking about directors, I’ve primarily focused on the films they released and the impact those films had on audiences. While Kazan captivated audiences with his work behind the camera, he may be best known for the people that he put in front of the camera.  Kazan helped introduce many new and exciting actors to movie audiences including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Julie Harris, Andy Griffith, Eli Wallach and Eva Marie Saint. Always striving for cinematic realism, he was able to evoke incredible dramatic performances from his actors, directing them to 21 Oscar nominations and nine Oscar wins. But, let us move onwards! Actually, I lied. Before we move onwards, I just want to say that On the Waterfront is one of Marlon Brando’s earliest roles, and Eva Marie Saint’s very first film. Okay. Now let’s move onwards. It’s important to note that On the Waterfront is based on a number of true stories and is filmed on location around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey.  On the Waterfront begins with Terry Molloy (Brando) luring fellow dockworker Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner) into an ambush so that he cannot testify against union boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), to the Waterfront Crime Commission.  Although Terry believes that Joey will simply be intimidated into not testifying, Joey is killed instead.  Everyone knows that he was murdered on orders from Friendly but no-one is willing to talk; instead they all play “D and D” (deaf and dumb). Terry is angry about being used as a tool in Joey’s death, but he too remains silent.   However things begin to change when Terry meets Joey’s sister, Edie (Saint). Edie’s is angry and upset about her brother’s death, and she tries to shame “waterfront priest” Father Barry (Karl Malden) into action.  Soon both Edie and Father Barry are urging Terry to testify against Friendly. This is where I’ll stop since if I go on…well…things would be ruined. I wouldn’t want to do that to you all.  On the Waterfront was one of the first films I watched when compiling my list, and I knew right away that it would end up ranking high on my list. Brando gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen and Eva Marie Saint matches Brando scene for scene. Throughout my life, I’ve heard the line “I coulda been a contender” numerous times but never knew where it originated from. When I saw Brando say it …I was blown away. I never expected that line to pack such a punch in the gut, but it did. The line is so iconic that it was voted the #3 top movie quote in the American Film Institute’s Top 100, and the film itself was voted the #8 movie of all time. On the Waterfront provided producer Sam Spiegel his first win for Best Picture and Elia Kazan’s second win for Best Director.


Nominated for 12 Oscars, Winner of 8
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Marlon Brando (WON)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Eva Marie Saint (WON)
Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Black-and-White – Richard Day (WON)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – Boris Kaufman (WON)
Best Director – Elia Kazan (WON)
Best Film Editing – Gene Milford (WON)
Best Picture – Sam Spiegel (WON)
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Budd Schulberg (WON)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Lee J. Cobb
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Karl Malden
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Rod Steiger
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture – Leonard Bernstein

Terry: 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.

This entry was posted in Best Picture Countdown, Posts by Josh Kaye and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.