James Baldassano 12/9/12 On The Waterfront

James Baldassano

On the Waterfront



No color? No problem. At least not for the cinematic experience of watching the film, “On the Water Front”, anyway. This black and white film was one of the most intriguing and interesting films ever. I’ve always been a sucker for gangster movies, and this one did not fail.

Unlike  “Manhattan”, the Woody Allen film, I feel this movie would have been better if filmed in color, but it was created at a much earlier time, so color was probably much more rare in films. Maybe there was a bigger reason that went over my head, but I feel the color would have expanded the feeling of the film. The camera zooming, however, stayed true to the times. In older films, the camera seems to focus on both people in a conversation, and staying until neither is speaker, while in newer films, it will flash back and forth between the two. This occurs especially in the famous scene with Charlie and Terry Malloy in the backseat of the car. The camera stays focused not too close, but enough to have them both be the center of attention, for the duration of their conversation. The background music, by famous American Composer Leonard Bernstein, was vital, especially in the opening scene.

The speech in this film, although it took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, was almost indescribably similar to that of Brooklyn. All of the heavy, old school Italian accents really brought it out. Maybe to me, but that’s just my opinion. The vocabulary that these “ayyye fuhhgeddabout” accents used though was nothing like modern vocabulary. The characters, which were predominantly adults, barely cursed or swore. Although there were a few choice words thrown in here and there (which I am told was already extremely edgy), the words were mostly censored. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely not elegant, but it wasn’t like a modern film, where people would be saying much more explicit things.

There was an interesting use of slang, with words such as “Cheese-eater”. This would probably be equivalent to a modern day, “bum”, or “scum” (no rhyme scheme intended!).  It was also quite common to be compared to an animal, especially birds. One of the most common was to be called a canary, which meant you were a “squeal”, or you couldn’t keep your mouth shut. I imagine it is because canaries are famous for their singing, and the singing was a metaphorical equivalent to “blabbing”, or squealing.

Not to skip around, but if we take a little return to the scene between Terry and Charlie, for a little more in-depth analysis, we can truly go in to why it was one of the most famous and memorable moments from this movie. Lets start off with the line “I coulda been a contenda’”, said by Terry. It clearly is a reference to his fighting days, when he was forced to lose so his brother and Johnny Friendly’s crew could win a bet. It killed him inside, and this line was said in this scene, for Charlie was telling him that Johnny Friendly and his crew were forcing him to do something against his will again. This time, they wanted him to lie in court.  You could see the discomfort in Terry Malloy’s face, and the urgency in Charlie’s. The acting was so realistic, especially when Charlie pulled his gun on Terry. It was so obvious that Charlie did not want to be doing so, and the way Terry gently shoved it away was just so realistic. They portrayed the scene as a very intimate moment between two brothers.

On to the topic of being drunk. Only kidding, but I am going to discuss the concept of alcohol in this film. Whiskey and beer primarily. I felt they represented a surrender of suspicions and tensions, as in the scene between Terry and Edie, when he first takes her out. As she drinks, she becomes less and less suspicious and wary of Terry, and more open and affectionate towards him. Then, they start discussing her philosophy, in comparison to Terry’s. Her mindset consisted of “Everybody cares for one another”, in comparison to his “Do it to him before he can do it to you.” It really shows the extremes of these characters, brought about by the alcohol

There really is no way to end a paper on this film that does it justice. With all the little details, intricate character development, interesting symbolism, and just fantastic plot, it truly was one of my favorite movies I have ever seen. This black and white romantic mobster movie intertwined the two aspects of the tough guy with a rough past, and the beautiful lass with a heart of gold, with immaculate precision.