Behind the Scenes of the Movie On the Waterfront Part 2

About the film On the Waterfront, behind the scenes of one of the greatest movies ever made.



The Story behind the Story: The first of the hard-hitting crime expose films of the 1950s, On the Waterfront set the tone for many lesser films that would follow. Curiously, the film was a personal statement as well as a sociological one. Director Elia Kazan had originally wanted to do a film about New York longshoremen to be written by playwright Arthur Miller. The idea fell through when Kazan testified as a "friendly witness" before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Miller, who viewed Kazan's testimony as a cop-out, broke their association, and Kazan was ostracized by many Hollywood liberals. Shortly afterward Kazan joined forces with screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who had also appeared before the committee as a "friendly witness," and the two prepared a script based on a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles by Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun.

Not surprisingly, in view of its argument that there are times when a man must in decency become an informer, many critics at the time saw the film as Kazan and Schulberg's personal defense for their committee testimony. To solidify the situation even more, Kazan had hired another "friendly witness," Lee J. Cobb, to play the important role of waterfront boss Johnny Friendly.

Despite its hints of self-serving, the film was a powerful indictment of crooked trade unionism, a subject that Hollywood had previously shied away from, and Kazan and his actors shot most of it on location in New York, often under the eyes of the same kind of racketeers they were portraying.

Frank Sinatra had originally been planned for the Terry Malloy role, but when Brando unexpectedly found himself released from a prior commitment, Kazan broke his verbal agreement with Sinatra and cast Brando in the leading role. There were some, including Sinatra, who thought that Kazan's integrity was damaged a little further by the act, but it's hard now to imagine anyone but Brando playing the emotionally charged Terry Malloy. Even Time magazine begrudgingly offered praise. "Brando in this show is one glorious meathead. The gone look, the street vocabulary and the sexual arrogance are still the Brando brand of behavior. But for once the mannerisms converge, like symptoms, to point out the nature of the man who has them. The audience may never forget that Brando is acting, but it will know that he is doing a powerful acting job."

After being nominated four times previously, Brando finally won his first Academy Award for best actor for his first Academy Award for best actor for his performance in On the Waterfront. In addition, the film won for best picture of the year, Eva Marie Saint for best supporting actress, Schulberg for best story and screenplay, and Kazan for best director.

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