On the Waterfront is a 1954 movie that was directed by academy award winner Elia Kazan. The film shows the corruption among New York City’s dockworkers. The story takes place in Hoboken, across the Manhattan River. Today, nearly seventy years later, On the Waterfront is considered a timeless classic, not only because of its plot, but because the elements that came into play during the production of the film.
During the movie, the mise-en-scène helped the viewer focus on certain aspects in each scene making them understand the story better. The viewers felt as though they were in the movie through the use of framing, editing, lighting, and camera shots. The movie, for the most part, took place by the docks, with boats constantly in the background. Today, the camera tends to move with the character more, and stay stationary a lot less. However, in the movie, the camera shots were short two-second clips capturing the character from different angles. In the scene where the priest was standing by Kayo’s body delivering a sermon, the camera tried to capture several different views of him talking from above, below, and behind.
The music was used to set the mood of the scene. When Edie walked out of the restaurant, the fast-paced wedding music set the mood for a quick chaotic scene that lasted nearly ten seconds. The bride ran into the crowd and the men surrounded her. The lack of lighting showed how it was late evening. Again, the camera didn’t move much in this scene; it simply showed two views, one from above capturing all the men, and one from the front showing Edie reacting to this scene. When the thugs were about to brake in to the church, it was the music that showed that something was going to happen. The scores played during action scenes set the mood, and prepared the viewer for what they would see. The costumes were sometimes used to show transformations. Through the movie, Terry wore his plaid jacket with holes by where his elbow should be. At the end of the movie, he wasn’t wearing the plaid jacket anymore, now he was wearing Joey’s jacket. Also, Edie transformed from the wrinkle-filled, hair knotted, estranged woman she was, to the more refined feminine figure at the end. The costumes worn showed that the movie took place at some point during the harsh winter, because the men and women were always wearing coats.
The 1950’s style dialogue was apparent throughout the movie. Their accents made it clear that the characters were from a different time. When Terry was being questioned about Joey’s death, he replied “People I may know? You betta get outta here busta” and “Neva’s gonna be too soon for me shorty” He also mentioned that he wasn’t a pigeon, meaning someone who would be the informer, and tell the cops everything. There were two types of people in the town, as Friendly saw it; there was the D & D (deaf and dumb) and the canary. The deaf and dumb wouldn’t say anything to anyone about what they saw, and the canaries would speak the truth. The cheese-eaters would also be the informers, and the potato-eaters would be the Irish because of the potato famine.
The scene between Terry and Charlie in the taxicab essentially showed two men having a deep intense conversation. But what made this one of the greatest scenes in was the acting, filming, and wording coming together so perfectly. When Terry got in to the car, it was obvious that Charlie was nervous. He was playing with this glove, and he also blinked a lot when he tried to make his point. It was apparent that he desperately wanted more than anything else for his kid brother to just take the job. When it becomes clear that Terry wouldn’t take the job, Charlie held up the gun. However the way Terry calmly put down the gun showed how hurt he was. They didn’t say much during their conversation, but their frequent pauses and facial expressions got the point across. The conversation was so strong, that the viewer almost felt their emotions as though they were in the conversation. Terry explains how Charlie failed to look out for his little brother, and that’s why today Charlie is a bum. Charlie’s association with Friendly took Charlie’s boxing career. The way Charlie said “I could’ve been a contender” showed how deep Terry’s pain was, and that he may never be able to let it go. Their voices stutter with pain and crushing emotion that send trembles through the viewers.
The Irish were known to have control of the waterfront at that time in history. The constant use of alcohol shows how they like to show their presence in the lives of everyone who lived by the docks, since whiskey and beer is a big part of Irish culture. Their practices became a constant reminder of their influence in American life. The Irish were known to have a policy where no one would ever say anything against them otherwise they would suffer the consequences. The movie depicted that idea, and constantly reflected the Irish presence through the use of alcohol.
On the Waterfront is a classic example of how elements of cinema come together with a great plot to form a timeless piece of American cinema that is sure to be remembered even a century from now.