105 Must See Films

105 Must See Films: On The Waterfront (1954)


Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden

Director: Elia Kazan

“I could have been a contender…”

Yes, this is that movie. Brando plays Terry Molloy, a ex-prizefighter who never really made it, and who has ended up as a dock worker. But there is corruption on the docks, with the unions being run by a crooked mob boss who is friendly to Terry. When Terry starts to fall for the sister of a murdered worker, who wants him to testify in court about the corruption, and the local priest urges him to be honest, Terry must decide who he is and whether he should tell the truth.

It’s a Must See Because: The dialogue and Elia Kazans naturalistic style made this film a huge success on release and it won a whopping 8 Oscars. Kazan was known to bring out the best in his actors, and his films feel quite fresh and relaxed, modern, by comparison to some of the other films of the same era.

That said, Kazan made this film two years after he notoriously named names at the HUAC hearings, which were controversial witch hunts for communists in the film industry which effectively ended careers and ruined lives. Most people refused to name names, and paid a heavy price for it. (For more on the subject, see Trumbo (2015)  HERE) Kazan remained largely unrepentant for his actions, often pointing out that his actions were the lesser of two evils, as an excuse. It’s hard not to see something of this in the subject matter of this film, coming just two years after, in which he rather aggrandizes a man who choses between what’s easy and what’s right: Molloy ultimately testifies and is vilified for it, but knows that he has done the right thing. It would seem that Kazan felt much the same about his own actions.

See It If: it’s a true classic and has stood the test of time well. Being one of Brando’s finest performances, it’s worth it just for that.


10 thoughts on “105 Must See Films: On The Waterfront (1954)”

      1. Totally agree with you. Some have definitely withstood the passing of time, some of them have not, but are still nice to watch, if only to see how movies were made in the old days 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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