ON THE WATERFRONT | RECOMMENDED FILM OF THE WEEK

We take a closer look at the classic...

The Picturehouse Team

22 Apr 20


Before the current situation, Picturehouse's programming team had planned a season on Marlon Brando for the cinemas for May 2020. The season would have focussed on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954) as centerpieces to explore the actor's position as one of the most gifted, dedicated and playful stars of his day. As Director of Programming Carol McKay explained, for her "much of the joy of movies is just being able to watch a group of people who are so good at their jobs. True artists produce amazing work." 


There is a moment in On the Waterfront (1954) that is testament to just this type of immaculate craft, showcasing Brando's instinctive talent as a performer. It has become one of the most widely celebrated in Brando's acting career and one that is arguably more subtle and sensitive than his memorable "I could have been a contender" monologue. 


In the film, dockworker and ex-fighter Terry Malloy (Brando) is at the centre of a brutal conflict between murderous, corrupt bosses and their workers on the New Jersey waterfront. He builds a sensitive and romantic relationship with the strong, kind Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint). In an early scene the couple walk through a children's schoolyard, their conversation ranging from Edie's grief over the loss of her brother, her training to be a teacher, and the fact that the sound of crickets makes Terry nervous. As they start the scene, Saint accidentally drops one of her character's white gloves. Brando instinctively picks it up, and the scene continues. 


Deeply in character, and in line with his training in the Method school of acting, Brando subtly uses the moment to dust off the glove as if to preserve Edie's innocence. He even sensually slips it over his own hand. Director Elia Kazan would later describe how the moment of improvisation suggested a significant psychological subtext for the scene - "The glove was his way of holding her". Brando's sensitivity and sensuality would become his calling card. After all, not many traditionally masculine stars of the period would risk their bravado for a moment in which they would slip on a ladies glove. Brando plays the role of a gritty ex-boxer, but delivers graceful and sensitive contrast all at once. 


On the Waterfront went on to receive critical acclaim, winning eight Oscars at the 27th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role  for Brando. Lauded by many for its deft weaving of the melodrama and crime film genres, alongside a visual style echoing Italian neorealism, the film has solidified itself as an American cinematic classic. There is a reason, time and time again, we are drawn to watch it on the big screen.