CONFRONTING BRANDO ON THE WATERFRONT
If Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg were commendable in evoking the post-world war reality of corruption, mistrust and misery, Marlon Brando was flawless in unleashing the portrayal Terry Malloy, an insider to that reality, the insider who is a sentinel, a victim and a redeemer to it. Okay, i'm talking about 'On the Waterfront'(1954), the magnum opus, eight Oscars-inning timeless classic which is still loved both by the critics and the audience.
I agree that the movie has a knockout screenplay, an awesome direction backed by brilliant cinematography and(Boris Kaufman) and art direction(Richard Day) and the fitting background score, but the linchpin thing of the movie is bound to be its acting. Like any other Hollywood masterpiece, his flick also boasts of its performance. There were luminaries and stalwarts like Karl Malden, Lee. J. Cobb, debutant Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando and i won't hesitate to reckon the movie to be a Brando movie all the way.
It was not that 'On the Waterfront' turned Brando a star overnight. He was already a star with movies like 'Viva Zapata!', 'Streetcar named Desire', 'Wild One' in his bag.Rather 'On the Waterfront' beefed his stardom with his acting aptitude. One would wonder if a performance can be as hard-hitting than this. Kazan had faith in him. And so goes the credit list of the movie in such a way: "Elia Kazan presents Marlon Brando in...". The plot revolves round the dock area's hard-up dwellers whose bread-and-butter is controlled by a racket of hooligans who operate under the tag of labour union. A labour named Joey gets killed by them and the plot thickens and lights up some of the characters who will be going to shape up the future of the narrative. Terry Malloy, the retired boxer, who though had no hunch of the heinous plot, willy-nilly became a part of it. There was Joey's sister(Eva Marie Saint) who would be the first to question and stand out and who with love and trust would turn Terry into soul-searching and a force of goodness. There was also one priest (Karl Malden) who like the priest of Rossellini's 'Rome Open City', was ready to brave the power-hungry establishment and back Terry. On the other hand there was the troubled and conscientious Charlie (Rod Steiger) who was guilt-srticken regarding the crime of union and yet helpless and it was his death which fixed the showdown of Terry and Jhonny Friendly. Johnny (Lee. J. Cobb) was the formidable demigod of the union gang whom Terry challenged. And finally we have Terry Malloy who would be leading the waterfront against the corrupt establishment of the fake labour union's crime and atrocity.
Amidst the critics' gushing and fathomless admiration, it's not that tough to single out the core attribute of Brando in portraying Terry. He made it flesh-and-blood. He humanized the character maximally with all its nuances and paradoxes.
Memorable scenes? Countless. Be it the stroll with Eva Marie Saint, or the cab scene with Rod Steiger or the final showdown with Lee. J. Cobb, Brando like the evanescent weather dissolved himself into different moods and shades effortlessly. Hollywood establishment posed a stance of sublime ignorance to Brando in the last few years of his life and death, but Terry has immortalized him. Terry is there on the waterfront, so is Brando. Ready to face him?