On the Waterfront

Patrick Kettyle

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront was an outstanding movie that kept me interested from the moment Joey was pushed off the roof, to the moment the credits started to reel. It is an excellent movie, as shown by the many awards won by the actors and director Elia Kazan. On The Waterfront also had a lot of great aspects in the movie that added to the plot of the movie and helped make it the timeless classic that it is today.

I made sure to pay close attention to when Leonard Bernstein’s score was employed in this movie and I noticed that it was used a lot during important scenes. For instance, the cab scene with Terry and Charley has music with a suspenseful feeling to it. We are already on the edge of our seats wondering what the outcome of this scene will be, and the music adds to that feeling. There is also up-tempo music used during the fight between Terry and Johnny. As the fight progresses and Terry gets beat up by the group, there is transition in the music and it is less upbeat to add to our disappointment because our hero has lost the battle.

The camera movement when Terry is walking to the head of the dock added a lot to the drama at the end of the film. While he is walking, the camera alternated from the third-person perspective and the first-person perspective. The third person perspective focuses on Terry’s bloodied face and him stumbling, while the first-person perspective focuses on blurred images of the head of the dock in the distance. Both of these images shown by camera movement are effective in emphasizing Terry’s great struggle and his determination to beat Johnny Friendly.

The costumes were an important addition to the setting. They make it easy to distinguish characters in the movie. Terry is seen wearing a rugged lumberjack shirt throughout the movie, along with the dockworkers that are seen with simple attires. Father Barry is always shown in his priest attire, which stands out, and Edie’s flowing blonde hair makes her stand out because of the way she lights up a crowd. The mobsters are always seen wearing suit jackets, which makes them hard to miss. Another thing that makes the costumes important is Terry’s costume change. Terry puts on Joey’s jacket when he decides to take on the responsibility of exposing Jonny Friendly’s corruption, which shows the end of his inner conflict.

The dialogue used throughout this movie is not very complex. It is filled with a lot of 1950s slang, such as “potato-eater” and “gravy-train rider,” which was excellent for setting the time period of the film. The term “informant” is described using a lot of different slang words in the movie, such as “canary,” “cheese-eater,” and “stool pigeon.” The last term has another meaning besides “informant.” Pigeon is also used to describe the dockworkers in the movie. When Terry is talking about pigeons and hawks to Edie, he says that the hawks prey on the pigeons of the city. “You know this city’s full of hawks? There must be twenty thousand of ’em. They perch on top of the big hotels and swoop down on the pigeons in the park.” This is a parallel to what the mobsters do to the dockworkers and makes the term pigeon a symbol for innocence and someone who avoids confrontation, because the dockworkers are innocent and trapped under Johnny Friendly’s thumb.

In the taxicab scene, the combination of camerawork, dialogue, and acting made this scene one of the most famous in the history of film. Although there wasn’t a lot of complexity in it, the dialogue was very intense and evoked a lot of emotion, especially when Terry utters the great line “I coulda had class, I could have been a contender.” This line shows that Terry has a lot of emotional issues with his brother. What makes this line so effective is the additional buildup up to this line. The camera style for this scene is in a third person perspective, and what makes it especially effective is that it shows both characters at the same time. This lets us see the each character’s reactions to what another character says or does, which filled the scene with a lot of emotion. After each line is said in the scene there was a pause, which allowed for the tension to build up.  Finally, Terry’s emotion, shown by his facial expressions and the tone of his voice, makes this line the most powerful lines of the movie.

Both beer and whiskey are Irish drinks that show their faces from time to time throughout the movie. These go along with the ethnic setting of the movie because the characters are predominately Irish. However, religiously, these drinks had to have raised some eyebrows in this movie. Typically, priests are typically the symbol of purity shown by their proper clothes, dialogue, and refined actions. However, Father Barry is seen having a drink with Terry during the bar scene which goes against the religious setting of the time. This action also brings these two characters closer together, which makes alcohol a symbol of unity. This is also seen when Edie and Terry go out on their first date. They both take a shot of whiskey, which symbolizes the start of their relationship.

For me, there were so many different elements to On the Waterfront that made it excellent to watch. The acting, music, thought provoking slang in the dialogue, costumes, and camera style all added to the great plot of the film and made it great to see.