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On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront (1954) did for Marlon Brando what East of Eden did for James Dean. The character of Terry Malloy made Brando reachable to the general public; everyone could identify with him. In Molly Haskell's delightful phrase, Brando's Malloy "enables us to experience inarticulateness as poetry." Elia Kazan's film tells the story of Terry Malloy (Brando), a failed boxer now eking out a living on the New York docks thanks to the patronage of union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) and his own brother Charley (Rod Steiger). But when Malloy is tricked into helping set up a man to be killed, he begins to have doubts about his life — doubts that are given urgency when he falls for the dead man's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint). With the additional counsel of the earnest Father Barry (Karl Malden), and especially following the murder of his brother, Malloy decides to testify himself. The great scene in On the Waterfront comes when Malloy leans back in the secluded rear seat of an impossibly roomy cab, and as the streetlights and car headlights dance across his face, he confronts his brother, who has just pulled a gun on him in an effort to compel his younger sibling not to testify against their boss. Instead of recoiling in fear, Malloy looks sad, and embarks on one of the cinema's great speeches, lamenting the downward trajectory of his career and gently complaining that his older, smarter brother hadn't protected him — "I coulda been a contender," he insists, mourning his failed boxing career. Columbia TriStar is clearly aware that a lot of the buzz about the film focuses on this scene. To that end, the studio has provided a documentary on its DVD release of the film dedicated solely to its history — "Contender: Mastering the Method" is a 25-minute examination of it. Most of the interviews are with people who weren't there, including Martin Landau and recent Brando biographer Patricia Bosworth, but fortunately Rod Steiger was willing to share his memories of the shooting. Besides "Contender," other supplements include an audio commentary shared by Time magazine's Richard Schickel and Kazan interviewer Jeff Young, a "video photo gallery" which consists of four minutes of stills and poster art, an informative 10-minute interview with Elia Kazan, theatrical trailers and filmographies, and a four-page production notes insert. The film's transfer is solid, with a remastered image (1.33:1) and monaural audio. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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