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.

Ariana Z. On the Waterfront

Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront provides cinematic evidence for a gritty story full of corruption and its battle with integrity. Kazan does so through mise-en-scene, accompanied with language and symbols that speak for much more than their face value.

One of the best ways Kazan presents the tenacity of both the story and the main character, Terry Malloy, is through the use of a black and white film. In a way, the shades of grey produced by the black and white could represent the fact that nothing about this union is truly black and white; rather, it is a monopoly that has no concrete rules. Even the promise of a job for the day is nonexistent. The camera shots seem to obey the 180-degree rule and eye line match. The characters that are speaking are also centered in the frame. At some instances, however, like when K.O. Dugan is killed, Father Barry and Pop Doyle are raised above the other dockworkers, signifying their importance and amplifying the words spoken by Father Barry stating that Jesus is, in fact, everywhere. In some scenes the camera is placed behind a fence (like with Terry in the pigeon pen) perhaps to exemplify how they are all in the union’s cage. The costumes are typical examples of the two extremes, rich and poor, with the characters in expensive suits and hand-me-downs, respectively. The set design meshes well with the storyline of a small, hardworking town with a rugged feel. Leonard Bernstein’s score is also played throughout the film, mostly in moments of realization for Terry, like when his brother Charlie places the gun on him in the car.

This moment between Terry and Charlie in the car, and the lightning fast revelations that take place, surely make it a scene to remember. It unearths all of the feelings Terry has been trying to hide, and finally places the blame on his lack of opportunity. It becomes evident that Terry lost his hope for a future (and his conscience) after losing a match for his brother’s bet. At this point in the film Terry is in a large predicament, he must choose between doing the right thing and exposing the corrupt Friendly, or standing by his brother once again. In the cab the brothers are placed next to each other with equivalent body masses showing stating no dominance of importance; the two extremes of clothing are, however, evident. Once Charlie brings the gun out (though Terry knows he will not shoot) it becomes clear that Terry is on his own (evident through the close-ups on his face), and he finally releases his pain by telling Charlie that it is his fault Terry is the screw-up of the two brothers. The melancholy music adds to the despair. This scene is a way for Terry to realize that history cannot repeat itself and that he must do what is right.

This 1950’s film dialogue speaks for the time period; the slang words present and use of foul language (which was not a norm of the time) definitely place it in another decade. For example, words like “mug” and “bum” also aid in dating the film. The use of “potato eater” serves to expose the ethnicity of a character and goes along with the slang of the time. Another type of “eater” mentioned is with “cheese-eater” which stands for a major symbol of the film, being a rat. When someone is said to be a “cheese-eater” it means that they are a betrayer, a rat, providing for the connection to the cuisine associated for a rat. A rat or betrayer is also symbolized with a pigeon. The word “pigeon” in this film has duality in its meaning. The first is that many dub pigeons as flying rats, or vermin of the sky. They are notorious for being dirty and almost everywhere in the city, like rats. Pigeons also provide a metaphor for Terry. At the beginning, the “lost” pigeon is how Terry gets Joey to the roof and consequently, his demise. Terry then relates humans to the birds with their rituals of marriage. He is even envious of them as they have no worries in their lives, and later he becomes the “rat” and is distraught to find them all killed (by Tommy) after his confession. The other foul mentioned throughout the film is a “canary” which unlike the pigeon is representative of a caged bird, a pet, and inferior to someone higher– like the union.

The presence of alcohol adds to the gritty nature of the film, and meshes well with the job of these dockworkers, which is to load and unload products like Irish whiskey. In this film whiskey and beer have particular meanings. Whiskey, for instance, can be related to the Whiskey Rebellion where, after being unrightfully taxed for this profitable product, the residents rebelled against the tax[1]. This rebellion can be related to the character’s quandary, of deciding to overthrow an immoral superior. Whiskey, in Celtic, translates to “water of life.”[2] This provides perfect irony since K.O., who yearns for a shipment of Irish whiskey, ultimately meets his demise to this water of life. The fact that Irish whiskey, in particular, is mentioned lends itself to the many “potato-eaters’ that inhabit this town. The presence of beer can be seen as the poor mans wine. With hardly any access to food, let alone wine, beer is what Terry and his fellow dockworkers can afford.  The predominance of Father Barry and the religion of Christianity can also be linked to the fact that some Christians drink wine to signify God’s blood.[3]

Ultimately, On the Waterfront manages to expose Elia Kazan’s personal struggles with morality and loyalty, through the use of symbolism and a plot that leaves no room for glamour.

On the Waterfront – Brendon Ursomanno

Earlier this week, our class and I were grateful enough to watch a well-renowned film titled, On the Waterfront. Luckily, Professor Kahan and other avid supporters of this movie had nothing but great things to say about it. Because Professor Diaz had educated us prior to seeing this movie, I was able to implement my new “film knowledge” during my experience watching On the Waterfront. In these next couple of paragraphs, I will explain the mise-en-scène, the dialogue, and the symbolism that was used to make this movie, I believe, one of the staples of American motion picture.

By definition, mise-en-scène is all of the elements that are placed in front of a camera to be photographed. A more literal definition would be that it’s the way the scenery and any other elements are used to denote where the movie is actually taking place. Compared to today’s technology with filmmaking, black and white film was used, which sets a different tone, representing one of hardships, betrayal, and constant uneasiness. Another set of aspects of mise-en-scène is the utilization of costumes and lighting. Both of these are vital contributors to the overall feeling and persona that is given off by the two main characters, Terry Malloy, an aspiring fighter and Johnny Friendly, the boss of the Dockers union. For the most part, the clothing is plain, as it relates to the time period of the mid 1900s. Suits, trench coats, lace or cotton dresses, and wool hats are all part of the costumes and there is a distinct relationship to the emotions evoked by wearing such clothing. For example, Johnny Friendly’s role is the “mob boss” that resides over the whole union; therefore, he dresses in a tailored suit with a trench coat over it, to represent a sense of prestige and loyalty all of his workers must have for him. However, Terry Malloy wears overalls, which symbolizes his hard work and willingness to achieve respect. Lighting also plays a major part in the demeanor of these two men, in relation to their overall characterization. The shadows and contrast between dark and light lighting flows coherently, with the separation of good and bad. There are many instances when the camera focuses in on Mr. Friendly; a shadow is formed and dark unpromising lighting is used. Therefore, the lighting and clothing used in this film contribute to the development of each of the characters and the roles that they play.

The dialogue that was used was another unique aspect in the movie. When I first heard the words such as: potato-eater, cheese-eater, and pigeon I was perplexed and not until I dug deeper, was I able to come up with a logical reason for using such phrases. For example, “potato-eater,” is referred to a person who comes from a heavy Irish background because money was scarce and potatoes were cheap, making it a staple of their diet. For example, Father Barry specifically calls himself a “potato-eater.” The other peculiar phrase was “cheese-eater,” which I’m assuming relates to the idea of being a rat; and it was used to describe Joey Doyle in Chapter four, for ratting out on Mr. Friendly. Finally, the word “pigeon” was used frequently in the movie in relation to someone who is loyal, just as the bird is faithful to its family and most importantly, to itself. Up until the ending of the movie, all of the workers including Terry were in fact, loyal to Johnny. However, the tides quickly turned, when Terry has had enough of Johnny’s antics and turns away from his authority, being bestowed the name of “stool pigeon.” However, these are only some of the terms used, but by delving deeper into them, I was able to find a distinct correlation between them and the main characters in the movie.

There is a very powerful and well-known scene in the movie between Terry and Charlie Molly, which took place in the taxi, when Terry says, “I coulda been a contender.” One of the most important things that I noticed is the use of the camera. Due to the small space, the camera adds to the intensity of the dialogue as it relates to the scene. In essence, the camera use capitalized on the facial and body expressions evoked by Terry and Charlie. The dialogue consists of Terry reprimanding Charlie because he made him lose a fight purposely, which unknowingly ended Charlie’s fighting career. The acting and emotions that were used during this scene were so intense and passionate that it ultimately shows that the character Terry has matured in a man, and is finally aware of what he has done. This then enables Terry to stand up to Johnny and his crew, after Charlie had been killed. Again, the quote mentioned above conveys the idea of fighting the bad for the good of everyone else.

Finally, alcohol is used prevalently throughout the film. I think the reason for using it is to epitomize the overwhelming amount of betrayal and moral decay. For example, Father Barry is, according to his obligations as a priest, not allowed to consume alcohol, but does so anyway. In the Irish heritage, alcohol has a deeper meaning and in this movie, corruptions works hand and hand with it. It also relates to the character Terry Malloy. When he consumed this drink, it seems to me that he was worried and trying to keep his mind off it before he acted on his inner thoughts. In reality, beer is way cheaper than liquor, so the typical Irish hard worker, Terry drank beer, whereas, the boss, Johnny preferred the more expensive drink, whiskey. Again, by the use of mise-en- scène, dialogues, symbolism, and alcohol an overall theme had been established making the underdog Terry have the last laugh.

Shumaila – On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront is a 1954 movie that was directed by academy award winner Elia Kazan[1]. 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.