Leavey On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront is one of the most powerful films of the 20th century. Elia Kazan, the director of the movie, perfects every aspect that can be put into the mise-en-scene to make this movie as moving as it is. The actors and actresses put their heart and soul into every single line to make us feel every struggle and pain the characters feel. All of this comes together to create one of the greatest films of all time.

The mise-en-scene in On the Waterfront comes together flawlessly to make the movie very realistic and emotive. The setting of the movie is extremely important to the overall effect of the movie; rather than use a set and create a fake shipyard, for example, Kazan makes use of a genuine shipyard in Hoboken, New Jersey, and uses normal clothes as costumes. Dark, dimly lit scenes, such as the scene where Terry and Edie are running down the alleyway while being chased by a truck, are made especially powerful by their lighting. By making the scene have a low key light, Kazan creates a high contrast with lots of shadows that heightens the ominous mood. The focus is placed on the headlights from the car chasing them, creating a lot of suspense for the audience, until the car passes and the focus is immediately shifted onto Terry’s brother Charlie, hanging on the wall. All of these emotions are enhanced throughout the film by the dramatic musical score by Leonard Bernstein, which establishes feelings of suspense, to feelings of achievement at the end of the film. Kazan creates the perfect atmosphere to literally “set the stage” for the film.

The dialogue in this film also adds to the true emotions and realism of the film. The phrases chosen in the script are period accurate; the characters use normal slang and language rather than specialized fancy dialogue. Soon after Joey is introduced to the audience by Terry saying that he had one of his birds, Joey gets thrown off the roof. He gets called a canary, which means that he testified and “sang like a canary” against the corrupt bosses. He told on them, but “…he couldn’t fly.” In the next scene, Mr. Friendly (who has a very ironic name, but there’s no room to go into that right now,) calls the late Joey a “cheese-eater,” implying that he was a rat. This kind of intimidation and exploitation of anyone who followed their conscience and did the right thing was the reason why so many workers kept “D&D,” and acted like there was nothing wrong with what was going on.

Pigeons were especially important and symbolic in the movie. They were used to symbolize the workers who informed the juries on the corrupt actions of the bosses. These workers were called stool pigeons, who stooled on their “friends.” Before the church meeting, Charlie explains, “Stooling is when you rat on your friends. Johnny wants a favor, don’t think about it, just do it.” The workers were trained to keep deaf and dumb when it came to the bosses’ actions; since it didn’t directly affect them, they were trained not to say a word so nothing would happen to them. The pigeons also have another symbolic value. They are waiting to fly and know that they are meant to fly away, but they are kept up in a cage and trained not to do what they are meant to do, just as the workers know what is right, but are trained not to rat on anyone.

The scene in the car with Terry and Charlie is one of the most famous movie scenes of the 20th century. The close up camera angles capture Terry and Charlie’s expressions, while the sad music adds to the heart wrenching emotion of the scene. Charlie insists for Terry to take the job and keep quiet to make decent money. Meanwhile, Terry knows it is the right thing to do to tell the jury about the corrupt actions of Friendly. Charlie urges his brother to just take the job and ignore what is right to keep a steady life for himself, but when the camera uses a close up shot to just place Terry’s face into it, we see Terry’s emotions as the light strings play a minor arrangement and we hear his story about how he could’ve been something if his brother had encouraged him to fight for himself, literally and symbolically.

Whiskey and beer have important significance in the film. When workers died for doing what they believed was right, they were acting as martyrs. Jesus died so that we could be saved from our sins, and shed his blood to give us freedom and eternal life. The drinks symbolize freedom and communion. When Charlie is found dead, Terry and the priest share a beer, symbolizing drinking the blood of Jesus, and symbolizing the freedom that Charlie died for. K.O. says that all he wants is some whiskey in the beginning of the film, and is later crushed by cases of it, ironically, as if he is being crushed by the freedom he craved and went after.

The music, cinematography, dialogue, and emotion that come into play in the film all join together to create a masterpiece that became one of the most iconic films of the 20th century.

Kostikas, Corinna 12/9/12

Corinna Kostikas

On the Waterfront Analysis

Some would agree that what makes a film great is it’s ability to slyly and effectively relay an important and strong message. It doesn’t need to be said outright, and many times the viewer won’t even see it coming.  But when the film ends, it hits you, and you’re taken aback.  On the Waterfront is one of those movies, and it has the wonderful use of metaphors, and of course, the general use of mise-en-scene, to thank.

A trend that is quite apparent when watching this movie is the constant mention of birds with a negative connotation.  For example, in the beginning of the film when Joey dies, a comment is made about him being a canary.  A fellow union worker says, “Maybe he can sing, but he can’t fly.”  Although you could take this line as a reference to the fact that he couldn’t fly to save himself from falling off the roof, it also seems plausible that he’s saying that although he could talk and tell of the gang’s criminal behavior, he could not run from them.  A canary is therefore someone who tells on, betrays, or exposes others.  Cheese-eater is another term used to represent the same thing.  Pigeons are also mentioned and starred in the film.  The way in which the word is used implies that aside from being a bird, a pigeon can also be a person that is easily tricked, manipulated or convinced.  Terry is accused of being a pigeon in the film, which seems suitable considering how much time and care he puts into them.  His talk about a fear that hawks will attack his pigeons in their coop seems to represent his fear of going against Friendly and his gang, along with his overall vulnerability.  Lastly, the use of a wide shot to film the scene where the men are waiting to get work at the dock, portrays the men resembling birds as they all flock into work while also picking at and fight for the tokens needed to get in for that day.

The film seemed to go back and forth between wide range shots and close-ups.  The more intimate scenes, such as when brothers Terry and Charlie have their last conversation on the way to what was supposed to be Terry’s murder, as well as Edie and Terry’s date which consisted of deep conversation, were shot close up.  In the end, when beat up Terry struggles to end the reign of Johnny and the corruption that accompanied him by walking over to the entrance to work, the screen shot goes back and forth from a close up of him to one of his fellow workers, which seemed to make it all that much more dramatic.  The lighting was also important to the film’s interpretation.  It was never very bright in any of the scenes, and there always seemed to be a thick fog whenever the characters were outside.  It may in fact be representative of the shadiness going on in the town, as well as all of the corruption and secrets.  The sound effects also add to this by giving off a feeling of mystery. The movie is filmed in black and white, which could go along with the view of the gang and it’s leaders who believed you were either their ally or their enemy.  This black and white effect also helps the viewers concentrate on the dialogue and facial expressions, as it seems to do in most cases.  Something about the set/scene that is worth mentioning is the view of New York City from the docks, which can be taken as an escape from the corrupt town they are living in.  The way it is placed in the distance is like saying that this better place is so close yet so far.

Alcohol is also seen repeatedly in the film and seems to have a less apparent contribution to the film.  Power is what seems to be associated with alcohol in a majority of the scenes.  Johnny and his gang hold meetings in the back of a bar, K.O. get’s a shipment of whiskey dropped on him which shows that the gang is more powerful and can destroy anyone that thinks of going against them, and Edie is drinking her first beer with Terry on their first date which shows her slowly giving in to him.  In addition, even the priest orders a beer after successfully convincing Terry to fight Johnny in court.  The whiskey in the film is connected to the country of Ireland, which is where many of the workers on the dock are most likely from.  The term potato-eater that is used in the film supports this, by referring to those from Ireland who have the reputation of eating a lot of potatoes.

The scene between Charlie and Terry riding in the car together would not have been as famous as it was without details such as the acting, filming, and dialogue.  The scene takes place in a close up shot, which helps relay the emotion that exists in this conversation.  The sad and slow music also adds to this and let’s the viewers know that this is a scene full of sadness, regret, and letdown.  During this scene, there are not many times where Terry and Charlie look at each other in the eyes, which makes the characters’ feeling of disappointment and regret more profound. Terry, saying that he could have been someone instead of the bum that he calls himself, shows that he had the chance to live his dream but instead he let it pass by. He is now left to deal with realization that it’s too late and that a mistake was made.  This is something that can be relatable to a majority of people, because unfortunately, people always find a reason to let go of their dreams, forget the importance of them, or let others tear them down.  Charlie on the other hand comes to see Terry’s point and begins to realize that he didn’t serve his little brother well.  He then agrees that the least he can do is cut his brother some slack and therefore lets him go at his own expense.

With the abundance of metaphors and well thought out mise-en-scene, it is no wonder On the Waterfront has gained recognition as one of the great American films.

On The Waterfront

Jaclyn Trotta                      HON 121 Seminar: Arts in New York         December 5, 2012

On The Waterfront

On The Waterfront is a drama film directed by Elia Kazan in 1954.  It is considered one of America’s most valued films. The mise-en-scène, the language, the symbolism, and the directing of scenes were all incorporated together to make the movie a great form of entertainment.

Mise-en-scène is the arrangement of scenery and properties to represent the place where a movie is enacted. It was used in this movie to give a certain appeal or emotion to the audience. It also helps to foreshadow certain scenes and give information to the audience as well.  On The Waterfront was filmed in black in white as opposed to color, which can help the audience determine the time frame in which the movie was set.  The lighting in this film is also very important. There is a lot of dark lighting used in this film, which produces many shadows to represent the eeriness and the corruption occurring in the plot of the movie. However, Edie is always shown in lighter lighting to represent the goodness and morality in the movie. This difference in lighting is a way for the directors to represent the difference between good and evil in the film.  The costumes, just like the color of the film, also help determine the time period in which the movie was set. Since it took place in the 1950s, many women wore cotton dresses and had their hair in waves while the men wore trench coats and fedoras.

Since the movie was set in the 1950s, the use of language is very different from what would be used in a movie today in 2012.  When they used the word cheese-eater it often referred to someone who rats out what other people are doing. Johnny friendly used this term to describe Joey Doyle who got Friendly in trouble with the crimes commission.  The word potato-eater is used to describe someone who is of Irish descent. For example, Father Barry referred to himself as a potato-eater. The word canary is used to describe a person who is against and talks about the corrupt ways of the union. This word was used to describe Joey Doyle who was going against the corruption of Jonny Friendly.  The word pigeon was brought up many times in this film. In this movie it described someone who is faithful. Terry is often described as a pigeon due to his faithfulness to Johnny Friendly throughout the movie. Pigeons are a loyal bird and just like pigeons, Terry and the other union workers were loyal to Johnny Friendly. There was also the use of the word “stool pigeon” which has a negative meaning. Unlike a pigeon that is loyal, a stool pigeon is described as a tattletale or someone who goes against someone else.  At the end of the film, Terry is described as a stool pigeon because he finally went up against Johnny Friendly.

The most famous scene is when Terry and his brother Charley are in the taxi towards the end the movie. This scene is probably one of the most well known scenes in all American movies due to the great combination of dialogue, acting, and the use of the camera. The dialogue in this scene is somewhat tense. Terry disagrees with Charley’s involvement in the corruption of the union while Charley is trying to get his brother to think otherwise. They both want the best for each other, however, through different means. The acting in this scene involves a lot of body language, high-toned voices, and facial expressions filled with disgust. Since the scene was depicting a rivalry between two brothers, their tones were filled with resentment. They often got very close to each other ‘s faces and bodies while they were speaking to emphasize their anger with each other, especially when Charley held a gun to Terry.  The camera was used in this scene to focus the attention on the interaction between Terry and Charley. When body language was important in the scene, the director would place the camera where the whole body was shown. If the facial expression was important, then the director would zoom onto one or both of their faces. The camera would also not only show the actor when he was speaking, but would also show the reaction of the other actor while he was being spoken to.

Throughout the film, there is a lot of consumption of alcohol. The significance of the alcohol in this film is to symbolize the immorality and corruption that is occurring. One way in which this is shown is in the scene where Terry takes Edie out. When he buys her a shot of whiskey, it symbolizes the bad corrupting the good. Another example of how alcohol represents corruption and immorality is when Father Barry goes against his chastity obligations and drinks alcohol.  This also shows the corruption of religion and the church during that time as well.  In the film, they also describe the whiskey as Irish whiskey. Therefore, this can also represent the value of alcohol in Irish culture.

On The Waterfront is one of America’s greatest movies of all time.  The film won many awards during its time all thanks to the intricate use of mise-se-scène and the ideas of Elia Kazan. The mix of incredible acting and well thought directing created a masterpiece that will be viewed for many years to come.

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.

What’s Up at the Waterfront?

The director, Elia Kazan, has been praised by numerous publications for his Oscar winning film, On the Waterfront[1].  The eight Oscars this film earned merit Kazan’s vast attention to detail and creativity. It would not do the film justice to simply watch it without analyzing all that Kazan had to offer.  From the cinematography to the motifs, the film has much to admire and examine.

First and foremost, the director should be commended for the film’s authentic use of mise-en-scène and effects.  The gritty docks, shadowed alleys and the unwelcoming industrial factories of Hoboken, New Jersey fit the bleak underworld of urban corruption.    Furthermore, the filter used for this film is very suitable for this picture. Although more and more films started to be filmed in color during the fifties[2], this film is more fitting in black and white.  It provides the movie a Noir-like aesthetic, especially considering all the urban corruption, street crime, and the classic trench-coated law enforcement that are in the story.

Speaking of Noir, the film definitely associates itself with its mid-twentieth century era.  Out of date terminology is abundantly used throughout the film.  Terms such as cheese-eater and Stoolie both contribute to the 1950s ambiance.  “Cheese-eater” is probably the more obvious of the two, clearly a term used to mock and label those who gave away secrets, or ratted on somebody.  A perfect example would be in a conversation between Friendly and Terry, “I got that one lousy little cheese-eater, that Doyle, goes and squeals to the crime commission.” The other term, Stoolie, is highly significant; it’s a word that is associated with pigeons, as in “stool pigeon.” In fact, there are multiple references to pigeons in this film.  The protagonist himself is called “Stoolie” by one of the Union heads, “Where are them cops of yours, Stoolie?”  Clearly, there is a metaphorical connection between Terry and pigeons.  A pigeon is known to be a wild animal, but a stool pigeon is designed to deliver confidential messages, so they are cooped up animals.  This relates to Terry, a person who has vast ambition but feels as if he is trapped, or cooped up, in his self-proclaimed “bum” life.

Terry’s low sense of self-significance is strongly depicted in the cab scene, during the conversation between him and Charley.  The scene takes place in the back of a small cab.  The camera frequently closes up on their faces, focusing on the constant emotional ups and downs of the two. Essentially, the camerawork and small setting lets the viewer focus on the interactions between the brothers. The confident and assertive, Charley, contradicts his own character. Throughout the scene, he fidgets with his gloves and cannot bring himself to make eye contact with Terry. He also does not argue when Terry outright blames him for his “bum” life.  Charley’s downhearted facial expressions show acceptance of the fact that he is the reason for his brother’s sorrow.  As for Terry, he always seemed like a character pent up with sadness. In this scene, he finally pours out his pent up grief to Charley, and as said before, blames his brother for the lackluster life he leads. Meanwhile, the non-diegetic soundtrack was highly complementary. The music was melancholic and heart pumping at the same, letting the viewer both sympathize with Terry and feel his vigorous outpour of grief.  Perhaps the most significant part of the scene is that even though Terry lets it all out, he knows his life is not fixed.  Terry does in no way seem content after his talk with Charley.  The scene is an ode to the idea that an individual cannot blame their problems on someone else, they have to resolve their conflicts with action rather than look for a scapegoat.

With the help of Father Barry, Terry was able to find a resolution to his problems.  After the death of Charley, Father Barry guides Terry towards the downward spiral of Friendly’s gang.  It’s ironic actually, one thing that shows that Father Barry helped Terry is something a man of religion would look down upon, alcohol. Whiskey and beer are motifs that symbolize good relationships between characters.  The scene subsequent to Charley’s death has Terry drinking his life away at a bar.  After he stirs up a ruckus, Father Barry comes in to turn Terry’s life around.  Once Terry is calmed down and convinced to bring down Friendly in court, the father orders two beers, one for him and Terry.  This shows that the two characters are in agreement with each other.  In contrast, this motif can symbolize disagreement.  Earlier in the movie, Terry develops a strong liking towards Edie and wants that affection back, so he invites her to go drinking.  The film uses beer again to represent the relationship between characters. Edie does not finish the beer and leaves, showing that since the drink is not wanted, the characters are not in complete agreement with each other.  Motifs are a different way to understand the relationships between characters.

The film is certainly not a simple work of cinema.  Kazan constructed a movie that required effort from the viewer.  From beginning to end, the components of this film are in-depth as well as cleverly constructed.


Naomi Edwards ~ On the Waterfront

Naomi Edwards

Professor Kahan

December 5, 2012

On the Waterfront


The film “On the Waterfront” is considered to be one of the classic American films of the twentieth century.  Elia Kazan used various artistic choices, such as camera angle, music, lighting and blocking to create the mise en scène of the film.  All of his directorial decisions gave the camera a point of view on the characters, and created an underlying symbolism, which promotes the plot.

The camera angle in the film played a large role in demonstrating the characters’ growth.  When the movie first starts we see Terry on the street yelling up at Joey to come up to the roof.  In this scene we see a low angle shot looking up at Joey in the window, and a high angle shot looking down on Terry.  This symbolically establishes Joey’s high moral character in comparison to Terry.  This idea of the camera looking up to characters that are not afraid to stand up to Johnny, and looking down on those who are scared into submission is continued throughout the film. There are low angle shots looking up at Edie and the priest and high angle shots looking down on the men when they are on the docks waiting for work.  This point of view of the camera also reinforces Terry’s growth as a character.  For most of the film he is seen in high angle shots, or straight on, but when he finally decides to stand up to the mob, after finding Charlie’s body, we see the first low angle shot looking up at him.  He has decided to take a stand, and the camera angle changes to show this new perspective.  The low angle shot on Terry, as he walks down the alley with a gun in this hand demonstrates that he is not going to sit deaf and dumb like he has thus far.

In addition to the camera angle, the blocking also played a large role in demonstrating the emotional and moral state of the characters. Whenever we see Terry with the mob, he is positioned so that his face is obstructed.  There are multiple times when we can only see his back as the other characters move around him.  This character position represents Terry’s shame in being involved in the mob.  In addition to representing Terry’s feelings, blocking plays a role in demonstrating the relationship between Edie and Terry.  When Edie and Terry start to have feelings for each other, there is a barrier between them because Edie is unaware that Terry played a role in Joey’s murder.  This is demonstrated with the physical barrier of the gate on the pigeon coop.  Edie stands on one side of the fence while Terry stands on the other side.  After Terry tells her the truth and has stood up to Johnny the barrier is removed. Edie goes to Terry on the roof after the trial and runs around the gate. The obstacle is removed when he helps her avenge Joey’s death.

Along with the symbolic positions of the characters, Kazan used animals and liquor as predominant symbols in this film. The idea of a stool pigeon, someone who rats on someone else is at the foreground of this film.  Joey was going to testify in court against the mob, and Terry uses the homing pigeon to lure him up to the roof.  After Joey dies and Terry realizes what he has done, one of the mob members says, “He (Joey) could sing, but he couldn’t fly.” Later in the film, after Terry testifies in court, he returns to find all of the birds in Joey’s coup killed.  Tommy, who has looked up to him the entire film throws one of the dead birds at Terry, screaming, “A pigeon for a pigeon.” Liquor, particularly Irish whiskey is another symbol in this film.  The priest is “just a sack of potatoes,” and he is the one who convinces Kayo Dugan to go up against Johnny and the mob.  Dugan is then killed when the mob drops a case of Irish whisky on him, which symbolically represents that it was Father Barry, the Irish potato, who got him killed by making him stand up to the mob.

Music is another method, which Kazan used to promote the story.  This is particularly evident in the classic scene where Terry and Charlie are talking in the car.  Both Charlie and Terry are experiencing an internal conflict at this point in the film. During this scene music starts to play while the two brothers reminisce about old times and what could have been.  It is the first honest moment between them in the film and this same music returns when Terry finds Charlie in the alley.  Kazan used the music in these two scenes to create an emotional connection between his characters and his audience.  Even though this music created a powerful emotional reaction when explaining the relationship between these two brothers, the absence of music in the scene leading up to Dugan’s death added to the suspense of the scene.

In addition to the music in the car scene between Charlie and Terry, the dialogue and acting impacts the audience’s point of view.  Charlie calls Terry, “slugger” and leans in to talk to him.  Terry avoids making eye contact with Charlie and is soft spoken in comparison to other scenes where he is very confident. When Terry yells, “I don’t know,” and Charlie begs Terry to take the job, you can see that they are both confused and scared.  Throughout the entire film these men have been very rough, but we can see that they really are just little boys who long for the days when things were simpler.

Along with the deep symbolism throughout this film, Kazan made sure to stay true to the setting of his story.  All of the costumes were very plain and you could tell that these people were suffering.  This highlighted the cruelty of the mob in taking advantage of these hard workingmen. When we see Edie in the apartment with her father, it is cramped.  The window curtains framing the scene demonstrate the smallness of the apartment.  By looking through one small window it is possible to see the entire apartment. The dialogue of the scene, particularly towards the end is indicative of the time and place. When Terry goes down to the dock and yells at Johnny, he says that all of Johnny’s guts are in his “wallet and trigger finger” and that he realizes that he has been “rattin’ on himself for years” by being involved in shady business. His words aren’t polished and staged, but they have the ability to resonate with the men on the docks because he is one of them.  Unlike the priest, with his sermons, Terry is an average guy, which is what makes him the hero of this tale.

Elia Kazan used multiple tactics to tell the story of “On the Waterfront.” His choice of camera angle, soundtrack, blocking, dialogue, setting and symbolism work together to show the growth of Terry Malloy as he becomes a true contender, on the side of good.  Kazan’s unique artistic vision and style make this film a true American classic.


On the Waterfront is a critically acclaimed movie directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg. Both Kazan and Schulberg wanted to go for a realistic, rough, gritty feel. Kazan uses the mise-en-scène of the movie to shape it in the way he wants to audience to see it. Schulberg uses dialogue composed of metaphors and images that represent different things to get his point across.

The use of slang in this movie is used to make it more realistic. Pigeons are a reoccurring theme in the movie. Terry maintains a pigeon coop with a couple of younger boys. He idolizes pigeons, saying that they have it easy. Terry’s connection with the pigeons represents his desire to break free from the cage, in his case the cage is being involved with Johnny Friendly. Referring to a person as a pigeon means that they’re easy to manipulate and fool. The “hawks” in the movie, the gangsters, often refer to the longshoremen as pigeons. Terry mentions that the town is “full of hawks”, full of people who can at any time take the life of another. Canary and cheese-eater are colloquially terms that refer to people who rat on others; canaries “sing” to the police and rats eat cheese. Unlike today, people in the 1950s still harbored racism. “Potato-eater” is a derogatory term for a person of Irish decent. Father Barry called himself a potato-eater to show the longshoremen that he is real, genuine, and has nothing to hide.
Kazan put care into the location of the movie. This movie was shot on location in Hoboken to further add a gritty realism to the movie. Even a well-made set design can’t compare to a real dock, bar, or apartment . The costumes were bought from thrift stores, old discarded clothes that weren’t made to fit the actors in order to show that the characters didn’t have much money. When Terry goes back to his apartment after testifying, there is a rip under the arm of his jacket. Most directors would want the rip fixed but Kazan choose not to, a decision that solidifies how much realism meant to Kazan. In the bar scenes and alley scenes, a lot of low key lighting was used to create shadows in order to add to the threatening air of the scene. Often, gates and fences were included in certain scenes, such as when Terry tells Joey he’s sending up one of his pigeons and when Terry and Edie are on the roof by the pigeon coop. The purpose of these gates and fences is to show Terry’s struggle to connect with the characters because of his own internal problems.

“I could’ve been a contender”, according to many movie critics, is one of the most famous lines in movie history. The scene starts off Terry mentioning to Charlie that he wishes to talk about something with him, which is revealed to Charlie about halfway through the scene. Charlie brings up that the other men, Johnny Friendly mostly, is worried about Terry testifying. Charlie tells Terry to get some ambition in which Terry responds that he figured he’d live a little longer without it. There’s a slight pause here so that Terry’s previous line can sink in. Following this pause, Charlie tries offering and then ultimately begging Terry to take a job on the docks where he won’t “do anything… say anything”.  After Terry refuses, Charlie puts a gun to Terry’s chest and tells him to take the job. Some time passes before Charlie begins to talk about Terry’s failed boxing career that he blames on the boxing manager. Terry corrects him, blaming Charlie for his failed boxing career in which he utters the infamous lines, “I could’ve been a contender”. These lines don’t just apply to Terry’s ruined boxing career due to one fixed fight in which he could’ve won but to Terry’s life in general. Terry is upset that his brother Charlie didn’t protect him and ruined his life because he didn’t just lose that fight, he lost his self-respect and pride. Terry tells Charlie that it was Charlie’s fault for not protecting him that made him a “bum”.

Amongst many symbols in On the Waterfront, alcohol is probably one of the most overlooked. In the movie, whiskey represents power and wealth. A lot of Johnny Friendly’s business is conducted in a bar, where drinks are surrounding the men. The men at the docks are responsible for unloaded cases of liquor often in their careers yet; they’re unable to have it. They are the ones who make people like Johnny Friendly possible but they don’t even get the slightest share in the profits. Dugan was killed by a case of whiskey; power can crush those who are too weak. Beer represents the working class. Even Father Barry drank beer, showing his connection with the longshoremen.

On the Waterfront
is a movie that uses the careful decisions made by Kazan to represent so much more than a corrupt longshoremen union. The movie was used to respond to people who disowned Kazan for revealing fellow Communist writers. When caught between a rock and a hard place that both have harsh consequences, doing what is morally right to you is the best option.

-Amber G

On the Waterfront- Penina Safier

Life consists of choices.  There are the simple, petty decisions, like what one should eat for dinner, and there are the morally ambiguous decisions that often require sacrificing happiness in order to do the right thing.  In Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, Terry Malloy is faced with the latter inner conflict.  Malloy must decide whether to inform on the corrupt leaders of the shipping union, thereby risking his life and is job, or remain silent and ignore his conscience.  The mise-en-scene, dialogue and symbolism present in the movie contribute to its overall meaning and brilliance, and to a better understanding of Malloy’s challenging decision.

Though the camera shots, set design and overall mise-en-scene allow for a realistic portrayal of events, they often influence the movie’s meaning and mood.  The movie’s setting seems authentically like the docks of a shipping pier; the place is dirty and cramped, and the workers often exhale smoke, an indication to the cold weather and harsh conditions in which they work.  The sounds of the ship whistles and metal chains and the authentic costumes also add to the realistic scenery.  This genuine setting supplies realism to the struggles and decisions of the characters.  The audience is able to witness the true unity among the workers and the real intimidation of the union leaders, and so Terry’s conflict becomes tangible as well.  From the cramped wedding scene in the bar, to the crowded work by the harbor, it is apparent that this is a rough world, and so the coining of the ‘D and D’- Deaf and Dumb- motto makes sense; the people band together and there is no tattling.  It is them against the world.  However, the union leaders take this policy and manipulate it for their purposes.  ‘Deaf and Dumb’ ensures that the workers will remain in servitude silently and will not tattle on the immoral leadership of the corporation.  Though it would seem obvious to the audience that Malloy should testify against the union, the realistic, crowded scenery allows us to sympathize with his struggle and doubts.

The camera also acts as a window for the audience to get a glimpse inside Terry’s head.  When Joey leaves the window to go to the roof, we see Terry look up, and the camera seems to look up with him.  We are able to discover the men waiting on the roof when Terry does.  Furthermore, when Terry endures the fight with the union and wakes up dizzy, the camera itself is blurry and out of focus, reflecting Terry’s own eyes.  Moreover, when Terry admits to Edie that he is responsible for her brother’s death, the audience is only able to witness the scene from afar and can only see their bodily reactions; the audio of the message is blurred by the blow horn of a boat.  This represents the intensity of the scene and the pain it causes Terry to admit.  Words would have taken away from his deep emotions and struggle.

The movie’s dialogue also enlightens the audience as to the social class of the characters and their role in society.  Terry Malloy is described as a ‘bum’ and he is referred to as the uneducated brother.  He speaks like the other lower working class members, especially compared to Edie’s polished dialogue.  In fact, in the ‘romantic’ scene, which contains the slow and sweet background music, Terry tells Edie that her hair used to look like a “hunk of rope”, and she had wires on her teeth, but she grew up nicely.  The specific words used also describe the characters’ standings in society.  The priest describes himself as a “potato-eater”, or someone who lives comfortably and does not work as hard for his food as the others.  People who betray the union and do not keep to the ‘Deaf and Dumb’ policy are referred to as ‘pigeons’ or ‘canaries’, while the leaders are called ‘hawks’.  This represents the predator-prey relationship of the union and its workers.  If someone tattles, it is said that they “ratted” and they are called “cheese-eaters”, a reference to the dirty and low vermin.  However, the symbol of pigeons is seen elsewhere in the movie.  Terry, a macho wrestler, tends to caged pigeons on his roof.  Pigeons are the epitome of freedom, yet they are caged here and unable to fly.  Like the pigeons, the workers have their freedom taken away and are being ‘caged’ by the union.  Terry and Joey both work with the pigeons and seem to sympathize with them, and so they both attempt to break through the constraints of the union and break free.  This comparison between Terry and Joey is also evident in the passing around of Joey’s jacket.  When Joey was killed for doing the right thing, the jacket is presented to Dugan, the next character who dies for making the correct moral choice.  The jacket is eventually passed on to Terry who also obeys his conscience.

Besides for pigeons, alcohol is another symbol apparent in the movie.  Beer is a drink of the working class and serves here as a social beverage and activity.  Everyone drinks, and works, together, and they all live by the same philosophy of ‘Deaf and Dumb’.  When Edie sits with Terry in the bar, she listens to his side of the story- the working class idea that it is every man for himself- and so she drinks their beverage and tastes their philosophy.  However, Edie represents goodness and believes that everyone should care for others, and so she does not want to finish the drinks.  She does not agree with the working group, and she does not ‘drink’ what binds them together.  Similarly, Terry shares a drink with the priest after he decides to tell the truth.  They are on the same team and united in an idea, and so they drink to bind themselves together.  Terry is on his way to do the right thing.

Terry initially becomes aware of the correct decision in the cab scene with his older brother.  Terry blames Charlie for his reputation as a ‘bum’; he has not looked after his younger brother properly and manipulates him for the union’s needs.  Charlie seems to have been in denial to this and would not make eye contact with Terry throughout the accusation.  He wakes up to the truth when he pulls out a gun in order to make Terry listen; he tries to force Terry to ignore his heart, just like he did those years ago at the boxing match.  It is Charlie’s fault that Terry is a bum; without his brother’s influence, Terry would have “been a contender.”  When Terry pushes the gun aside, refusing his brother’s control, and says, “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie,” the pain in his voice is almost tangible, and the audience can feel the stress of the situation.  Once Charlie lets Terry go, the younger brother is now free to do what he feels is right.  He can change his status as a bum through his own actions.  Once he is free, Terry does the right thing.  He embraces his conscience.  He is finally a contender.

On the Waterfront- Andrew

On the Waterfront is a classic film about the struggles of Terry Malloy, as he tries to balance a life of organized crime, love, and a disturbed conscience. Directed by Elia Kazan, the film consists of excellent cinematography, music, dialogue, and storytelling. It is a successful portrayal of the corruption and malice of organized crime in an urban setting.  Many elements of the film symbolize the hardship and growth of Terry as he makes the toughest decisions of his life.

The costumes used in the film were all purchased second hand, and this helped portray the working class lifestyle that many of the characters lived. The appearance of the dockworkers, and of Terry, consistently represent struggle. Terry wears a checkered jacket throughout most of the film, which symbolizes his confused character. It is difficult to define the color of the jacket, or his personality. He continually changes his roles as a boxer, mobster, bum, and lover.  The film is filled with fantastic pieces of music that guide the audience on an emotional journey throughout each scene. During the scene where Terry goes to Edie’s apartment to claim his love, the driving music fills the audience with excitement, nervousness, and romance. The music is playing so fast when suddenly, Terry grabs Edie and kisses her. The bewildering tune abruptly ends, and their love is manifested. Some great camera shots take place when Terry returns to face Johnny Friendly at the docks. The director has Terry stand on a bridge, which acts as pedestal and symbolizes his newfound moral values. Meanwhile, Johnny stands below him with his deceitful, grimy business tactics, and lack of morals. There is also a clip of Johnny leaning on and standing behind a pole while they talk, showing how much of a coward he truly is, by relying on things and people around him.

The dialogue used in the film often draws the line between the educated and uneducated. Those who work on the docks are very uneducated, and this is apparent by their constant use of slang and poor grammar. Father Barry, who is an Irish immigrant, or “potato-eater,” is an educated man as one may see from his inspiring speech after K.O.’s death. However, he uses many slang phrases to relate to the men. He says the bosses “fixed K.O. for good,” because he was going to “spill his guts” in court the next day. There are many animal references in the dialogue as well. The terms “cheese-eater,” “rat,” “canary,” and “pigeon” are all used to describe an informant. The term pigeon is also used to describe cowards and low-lives, since pigeons are dirty, eat whatever they can, and flee from people. Tommy, the boy on the roof, yells, “A pigeon for a pigeon!” at Terry, after he “ratted” in court. Pigeons also represent the men on the docks, who are plenty in number, and have no real direction in life. As opposed to the mobsters, who are referred to as hawks, powerful animals that are scarce in number compared to pigeons.

In the famous taxicab scene, Charlie is faced with the difficult task of either killing Terry, or securing his loyalty to the mob. He maintains a determined look while Terry, who is distraught in his situation, looks upset and confused. Charlie has never guided Terry in the right direction; he has only looked after himself. He has become a rich man while Terry has nothing. This is symbolized by their clothing, particularly Charlie’s checkered scarf and Terry’s checkered jacket. The scarf represents power and intelligence, while the jacket appears low-class. However, they are the same design, symbolizing their distant brotherhood. After Charlie pulls his gun on Terry, he puts it down and a distressing, frightening piece of music cues in. The music lets the audience know that their relationship as brothers has been destroyed. As the camera closes in on Charlie, we see he now realizes that he is wrong. As Terry blames him for his failed boxing career, it is seen how every word pierces Charlie’s black heart by his increasingly remorseful expression. The action has shifted to Charlie having the distressed look, and Terry looking determined. This symbolizes Terry’s maturation and Charlie’s realization of his cruelty and selfishness.  Terry explains that if not for Charlie, he “could have been a contender”. Charlie realizes at the end of the scene, that perhaps the only thing he can do to reconcile their broken relationship, is to let Terry testify.

Alcohol plays a significant role throughout the film. Irish whiskey represents hope, happiness, and a comforting sense of home for the Irish immigrants. The men working on the docks long for the days they get to import whiskey, so they can enjoy a taste of home, and escape their dreary reality on the waterfront. It is irony at its finest when K.O., an Irishman who said he couldn’t wait till a shipment of whiskey came in, is killed when a ton of it crashed down upon him. Perhaps this is to show that alcohol is dangerous, and should not be used to mask one’s troubles.  Whiskey is also seen when Terry and Edie go to the bar and have a shot. This drink symbolizes the start of their romance and even a loss of innocence for Edie, who is a prudish character. The 1950’s was a proper era, in which religion played a heavy role. Having Father Barry drink consistently throughout the movie was a bold decision made by the director, but one that accurately portrayed the brave character the Reverend was.  The beer he shared with Terry symbolized Terry’s maturation; he wouldn’t fight Johnny using the same dirty tactics as Johnny himself. The beer unified the two as a force against the mob.

The mise-en-scène used in On the Waterfront combines to form a fantastic piece of art that tells a superb story. Different elements such as camera angles and shots change the way we perceive a film. Terry Malloy is often filmed as the only person in the focal points of the camera, reminding the audience that he is fighting the battle alone. The musical score of the film is a powerful, emotionally guiding soundtrack that matches the scenes perfectly. The actions and words of the characters often symbolize a deeper meaning in this film, and the theme of treating all people with equality is apparent.

Christian Siason – On The Waterfront

On The Waterfront is considered by many to be one of the greatest films in American history. It contained superb acting from the likes of Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Eva Marie Saint, but something that may be overlooked by viewers is the great job the director, Elia Kazan, did.

Kazan employed different types of camera shots and editing joins in the movie. When Terry went to tell Edie that he’d been the one that turned Joey over to be killed, Kazan first used a dolly shot, following Father Barry as Terry ran down to meet Edie. Then there were multiple cuts between the faces of the three characters, as well as the boat that was in the distance. Kazan used the boat’s horn to drown out the conversation between Terry and Edie, forcing the two to use facial expressions to convey what was going on—a true measure of acting ability, in my opinion. It also forced the audience to use their imagination, something that I find engaging. The music in the movie was also used interestingly. In the scene where Terry and Edie were in the park, we could hear a little bit of low, lighthearted music in the background. However, it was somewhat overshadowed by the sounds from all around the neighborhood, like car horns and the wind blowing. It was like Terry felt at ease with Edie, and yet he couldn’t be totally carefree with her because there were other things hanging over him. Later on, though, it seemed that that dynamic changed. In the scene leading up to the kiss between Terry and Edie, the music was frantic as she was adamantly demanding him to leave her alone, but then when they kissed, all the sound totally disappeared. It showed that when Terry was actually with Edie, everything else ceased to matter. I thought that the music was utilized very effectively, helping show some development in the story.

Since the movie was made in 1954, slang that is no longer common now was used.  Some of it had to do with ethnicity, such as “potato-eater”—a term for an Irish person. A lot of it, however, had to do with snitches. “Cheese-eater,” “pigeon,” and “canary,” were all used to imply that someone was a rat—that they’d sell the gangsters out to the police. Pigeons, however, seemed to have a real significance in the movie. A pigeon was someone who was a snitch, and Terry did eventually snitch on the gang, but Terry had a real relationship with pigeons. They seemed to be his biggest getaway—it seemed like the pigeon coop on the rooftops was his home. In such a religious movie, where once can take Terry to be an embodiment of Jesus, it’s arguable that pigeons symbolized Terry’s spirit. They lived up on the rooftops and they had the ability to fly high, but were trained not to. Terry was a talented boxer back in his youth, but was forced to take a dive and basically never reach his full potential, much like these pigeons.

The scene in the car between Terry and Charlie was iconic. The director kept the camera close up on the two, showing their every interaction. The acting was brilliant; both characters showed true emotion. Charlie was trying to coerce Terry into taking a job and leaving. He pulled a gun on him, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to shoot his brother. Terry, meanwhile, pointed out that Charlie cost him his shot at becoming a big-name fighter—that Charlie owed him. The dialogue and acting were done perfectly, showing the conflict both men felt, giving us a truly emotional scene.

Alcohol was one of the focuses of the movie. Whiskey was a favorite of the working class people, namely K.O., while Terry and Father Barry liked to drink beer.  However, Father Barry also enjoyed whiskey. This was likely a reference to the stereotype of Irishmen being fond of drinking any type of alcohol. The main difference between the whiskey drinkers and the beer drinkers seemed to be one of class, but it also seemed to highlight a difference in spirituality. Terry carried the burden of the workers—he was the Jesus-figure in this movie. The fact that he shared a beer with Father Barry, then, seems very fitting. Jesus himself drank wine, so beer was probably the substitute for that in this movie.

This movie is a staple in American cinematic history, and rightfully so. The overall story was great, as the movie was filled with deeper meanings and it was punctuated with excellent acting and directorial editing.