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On the Waterfront

theatrical poster
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Written by Budd Schulberg
Starring Marlon Brando
Karl Malden
Lee J. Cobb
Eva Marie Saint
Rod Steiger
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Cinematography Boris Kaufman, ASC
Editing by Gene Milford
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) July 28, 1954 (1954-07-28) (US)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $910,000 USD (est.)

On the Waterfront is a 1954 American drama film about mob violence and corruption among longshoremen. The film was directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg. It stars Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. The soundtrack score was composed by Leonard Bernstein. It was based on a series of articles written in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson.

The film received eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. It is Leonard Bernstein's only original film score not adapted from a stage production with songs.



This not so classy story of Mob informers was based on a number of true stories and filmed on location in and around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey. Mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) gloats about his iron fisted control of the waterfront. The police and the Waterfront Crime Commission know that Friendly is behind a number of murders, but witnesses play deaf and dumb ("D&D"), submitting to their oppressed position rather than risk the danger and shame of informing. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a dockworker whose brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is Friendly‘s lawyer. Some years earlier, Terry had been a promising boxer until Friendly had Charley instruct him to deliberately lose a fight that he could have won, so that Friendly could win money betting on the weaker opponent. As the film begins, simpleminded Terry is used to coax a popular dockworker out to an ambush, preventing him from testifying against Friendly before the Crime Commission. Terry resents being so used in the murder but is still willing to remain D&D. Terry meets and is smitten by the murdered dockworker's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), who has shamed "waterfront priest" Father Barry (Karl Malden) into fomenting action against the union/mob. Soon both Edie and Father Barry are urging Terry to testify. Another dockworker, who agrees to testify after Father Barry's promise of unwavering support, ends up dead after Friendly arranges for him to be crushed by a load of whiskey in a staged accident.

Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy with Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle

As Terry, tormented by his awakening conscience, increasingly leans toward testifying, Friendly decides that Terry must be killed unless Charley can coerce him to keep quiet. Charley tries bribing Terry with a plum job, and finally threatens him, but recognizes he has failed to sway Terry, who places the blame for his own downward spiral on his well-off brother. In one of the most famous scenes in film history, Terry reminds Charley that if it had not been for the fixing of the fight, "I coulda been a contender." Charley gives Terry a gun and advises him to run. Friendly has been spying on the situation, so he has Charley murdered, his body hanged in an alley as bait to get at Terry. Terry sets out to shoot Friendly, but Father Barry obstructs that course of action and finally convinces Terry to fight Friendly by testifying. In a final face-to-face confrontation with Friendly, Terry is finally getting the upper hand in a vicious brawl but is beaten nearly to death by Friendly's goons. The dockworkers declare support of Terry, and only commence work when Terry forces himself to enter the dock. Friendly is defeated as the controller of the longshoremen.

Factual background

On the Waterfront was based on a 24-part series of articles in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson, "Crime on the Waterfront". The series won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. The stories detailed widespread corruption, extortion and racketeering on the waterfront of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

To add realism, On the Waterfront was filmed over 36 days on-location in Hoboken, New Jersey (the docks, workers' slum dwellings, bars, littered alleys, rooftops). And some of the labor boss's chief bodyguards/goons in the film (Abe Simon as Barney, Tony Galento as Truck and Tami Mauriello as Tullio) were real-life, former professional heavyweight boxers.

Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy and Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle in the film's trailer.

In On the Waterfront, protagonist Terry Malloy's (Brando's) fight against corruption was in part modeled after whistle-blowing longshoreman Anthony DiVincenzo, who testified before a real-life Waterfront Commission on the facts of life on the Hoboken Docks and had suffered a degree of ostracism for his deed. DiVincenzo sued and settled, many years after, with Columbia Pictures over the appropriation of what he considered his story. DiVincenzo recounted his story to screenwriter Budd Schulberg during a month-long session of waterfront barroom meetings — which some claim never occurred — even though Shulberg attended Di Vincenzo's waterfront commission testimony every day during the hearing.

Karl Malden's character of Father Barry was based on the real-life "waterfront priest" Father John M. Corridan, S.J., a Jesuit priest, graduate of Regis High School who operated a Roman Catholic labor school on the west side of Manhattan. Father Corridan was extensively interviewed by Budd Schulberg (who wrote the foreword to a biography of Father Corridan, Waterfront Priest by Allen Raymond).

Schulberg's later novel

Budd Schulberg later published a novel just called Waterfront that was much closer to his original screenplay than the version that was released on-screen. Among several differences is that, in both the screenplay and the novel, Terry Malloy is brutally murdered.

Political context

Karl Malden as Father Barry with Eva Marie Saint.

In 1952, director Elia Kazan was a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), in which he identified many alleged Communists in the film industry. That brought him severe criticism.

The original screenplay (called "The Hook") was written by renowned playwright Arthur Miller, who was questioned by the HUAC. He was replaced by Budd Schulberg, also a witness before HUAC.[1]

On the Waterfront, being about a heroic mob informer, is widely considered to be Kazan's answer to his critics (including his former friend and collaborator Miller), showing that there could be nobility in a man who "named names." In the movie, variations of that phrase are repeatedly used by Terry Malloy. The film also repeatedly emphasizes the waterfront's code of "D and D" or "Deaf and Dumb," remaining silent at all costs and not "ratting out" one's friends. In the end, Malloy does just that and his doing so is depicted sympathetically. Miller's response to the film's message is contained in his own play, A View from the Bridge, which presents a contrasting view of those who inform on others.

Awards and honors

In 1989, this film was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. It is also on the Vatican's list of 45 greatest films of all time, compiled in 1995.[2]

Academy Awards

Wins: It was the winner of eight Oscars:[3]

Award Result Winner
Best Motion Picture Won Columbia Pictures (Sam Spiegel, Producer)
Best Director Won Elia Kazan
Best Actor Won Marlon Brando
Best Story and Screenplay Won Budd Schulberg
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Lee J. Cobb
Winner was Edmond O'Brien - The Barefoot Contessa
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Karl Malden
Winner was Edmond O'Brien - The Barefoot Contessa
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Rod Steiger
Winner was Edmond O'Brien - The Barefoot Contessa
Best Supporting Actress Won Eva Marie Saint
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Black-and-White Won Richard Day
Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) Won Boris Kaufman
Best Film Editing Won Gene Milford
Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Nominated Leonard Bernstein
Winner was Dimitri Tiomkin - The High and the Mighty


American Film Institute recognition

Trailer title




  • Raymond, Allen, Waterfront Priest (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1955); forward by On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
From Here to Eternity
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

On the Waterfront is a 1954 film.

Directed by Elia Kazan
Screenplay by Budd Schulberg (based on magazine articles by Malcolm Johnson)


Terry Malloy

  • Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you.
  • Quite a nose, huh? Some people just have a face that sticks in your mind.
  • Yeah his racket, everybody's got a racket.
  • Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, "Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson." You remember that? "This ain't your night"! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money.
  • You know this city's full of hawks? That's a fact. They hang around on the top of the big hotels. And they spot a pigeon in the park. Right down on him.
  • You know you're not too funny today, fat man.
  • You think you're God Almighty, but you know what you are? You're a cheap, lousy, dirty, stinkin' mug! And I'm glad what I done to you, ya hear that? I'm glad what I done!


  • Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary.
  • You want to know what's wrong with our waterfront? It's the love of a lousy buck. It's making love of a buck— the cushy job— more important than the love of man!
  • Edie: Shouldn't everybody care about everybody else?
    Terry Malloy: Boy, what a fruitcake you are!
  • But Pop, I've seen things that I know are so wrong. Now how can I go back to school and keep my mind on... on things that are just in books, that-that-that aren't people living?
  • Terry Malloy: If I spill, my life ain't worth a nickel.
    Father Barry: And how much is your soul worth if you don't?
  • Isn't it simple as one, two, three? One. The working conditions are bad. Two. They're bad because the mob does the hiring. And three. The only way we can break the mob is to stop letting them get away with murder.
  • Where you guys going? Wait a minute! I'll remember this! I'll remember every one of you! I'll be back! Don't you forget that! I'll be back!


  • The only arithmetic he ever got was hearing the referee count up to ten. - Big Mac


Marlon Brando - Terry Malloy
Karl Malden - Father Barry
Lee J. Cobb - Johnny Friendly
Rod Steiger - Charley
Pat Henning - Timothy 'Kayo' Dugan

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

On the Waterfront
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Written by Malcolm Johnson (writings)
Budd Schulberg (story and screenplay)
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Cinematography Boris Kaufman
Editing by Gene Milford
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) July 28, 1954
Running time 108
Country United States
Language English
Budget $910,000 (estimated)
IMDb profile

On the Waterfront is a 1954 movie about mob violence among longshoremen (people who unload ships). Directed by Elia Kazan, it stars Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden.

The movie won eight Academy Awards: for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), Best Supporting Actress (Saint), Best Art Direction, Best Director (Kazan), Best Cinematography (Boris Kaufman), Best Film Editing (Gene Milford) and Best Original Screenpaly (Budd Schulberg).

Its most famous line is "I could've been a contender", said by Brando's character, Terry Malloy. In 2005, it ranked third on AFI's list of the one hundred most famous quotes in movie history [1].

Five years earlier, it was the eighth most popular movie on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies list.

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