On the Waterfront: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

The docks have been a place filled with violence, unfair practices, and for most of the men who work there, broken dreams. One man with shattered dreams is Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) and while he used to be a talented prizefighter, he has found new lows on the docks. He still holds on to part of his dream to be a famous boxer, but he most of his work comes from Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the union boss with a crooked slant. A team called Waterfront Crime Commission has stepped in to battle the rampant wrongdoings of the union bosses & their mob friends, but most activities remain on full speed ahead. The commission needs someone to help them convict the corrupt bosses, but whenever someone tries or rebels, they end up six feet under. Such is the case with one man and by accident, Terry is involved in luring the worker to his death. Thus sparks a personal assessment by Terry, who starts to gain a conscience and remember his broken past, thanks to a beautiful woman (Eva Marie Saint) and a dedicated priest (Karl Malden). Is there still some hope for Terry and if so, can he stand up to the bosses and claim his future as his own?

A winner of numerous Oscars in 1954 (including Best Picture), one of the true classics of cinema, an AFI 100 selection, and one of my personal favorite films, On the Waterfront has arrived on DVD, after an extensive absence. A dark, tragic motion picture, On the Waterfront has become a staple of film classes and even after all these years, it remains as potent as ever. I have returned to this film countless times and have never been let down, as the story, performances, and direction never lose their luster. The writing is excellent and has a realistic texture, which is enhanced by the production design work and of course, the performances. This is not a slick, glamorous picture and if it were, it would retain an ounce of effective impact. It needs to be dim, dank, and hopeless, so that we can connect into that world and understand the characters & situations better. Marlon Brando is flawless in this Oscar winning turn, especially in a few key sequences and in particular, the famous “I coulda been a contenda” speech. I cannot recommend this film enough and if you have even a casual interest in cinema, this is a must see picture, without a doubt.

He is often talked about more for his personal quirks, but no doubt about it, Marlon Brando is a masterful performer. In his younger days, Brando was one of the top players in the game and this film proves that, as Brando is excellent. This is not a glamorous role by any means, but Brando makes the most of the chance and drives home his character with force. He allows the dark, desolate atmosphere to show through his character, but the small glimpses of hope are also there, no matter how minimal in scope. He has become somewhat of a target for jokes in recent years, but for my money, few can match Brando’s turn in this picture. Other films with Brando include Last Tango in Paris, The Score, Apocalypse Now, The Chase, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Wild One. The cast also includes Karl Malden (Kiss of Death, How the West Was Won), Lee J. Cobb (The Exorcist, Mackenna’s Gold), and Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night, Doctor Zhivago).

Video: How does it look?

On the Waterfront is presented in a full frame transfer, as intended. As expected, the print has signs of age & wear and looks rough at times, but all things considered, this is probably the best transfer Columbia could provide here. The debris & grain never overpower the image, but some scenes look overly soft, which can be a tad distracting, though not too much so. I found most scenes to be sharp and very solid in appearance, with only a small number of sequences that show serious age reflections. I would love to see this movie given a full restoration and remastering, but until then, this treatment is acceptable and should please fans.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original mono option is clean and has a solid overall sound, but keep in mind, this is a mono track from 1954. I heard some harshness at times and as expected, the audio is thin in places, but no serious flaws are evident with this mix. The music gets a shade loud, but remains on the mark and while the sound effects don’t need much, they sound terrific here. The main element is dialogue and it stays clear throughout, with no volume or clarity issues to report. This disc also includes a French audio option, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai, which should cover most of the bases.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc isn’t quite as loaded as some Special Editions, but it has a nice selection of bonus materials, to be sure. It all starts off with an audio commentary track that features film critic Richard Shickel, as well as Elia Kazan biographer Jeff Young. These two know their stuff and that’s evident here, as all sorts of topics are handled and there’s never a shortage of data. The participants talk about behind the scenes issues, their thoughts on the film’s lasting legacy, and even the real life events that inspired the picture. This is a terrific session and because both are so knowledgeable, there is never a dull moment with this track. Next is a retrospective featurette and this is no fluff piece, as it runs about half an hour and is loaded with insightful interviews. You’ll hear from Schickel and Young again, as well as Brando biographer Patricia Bosworth and various cast members. I was most taken with the comments from Rod Steiger, who seems very open and shares a lot of interesting tidbits about the production. This disc also includes some talent files, an animated montage of still photos, a brief interview with Elia Kazan, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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