2013 TCM Classic Film Festival
TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood
Before the screening, Eva Marie Saint talked about the making of On the Waterfront, her Oscar win and what it was like working with Marlon Brando. TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz began the interview by noting how director Elia Kazan intended it as “a kind of response” to those who condemned him for “naming names” in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Saint responded that she was “doing a role” and read about it later. “At the time there wasn’t discussion about it.”
The finished film’s “politics” are murky, at best. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a washed-up boxer who scrounges for work on the New York docks. Jobs are hard to come by and fought over. Kazan, with black-and-white cinematography by Boris Kaufman, captures the toughness of life “down there.”
Terry’s brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is tied to a mobster (Lee J. Cobb) who has people killed with impunity. Terry’s dilemma is whether or not to talk to the Crime Commission and implicate his brother. I frankly don’t see how this equates with squealing on your friends to HUAC but oh well.
It’s now impossible to watch Brando’s performance and to not think of all of people who’ve “done” him. A number of Robert DeNiro’s characters are close cousins of Terry Malloy. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character is another variation.
Of course, no one should blame Brando for creating something so iconic. Saint is the one to watch, however. Her performance as Edie Doyle, the sister of the murdered man, retains its freshness. A TV actress in her first movie, she may be the best reason to play this one again.