On the Waterfront: Marlon Brando’s Defining Performance in Elia Kazan’s Drama of Corruption and Redemption

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Starring Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront is a 1954 American crime drama film directed by Elia Kazan. It is recognized by many as one of the best movies ever made in American history and is renowned for its compelling plot and strong acting. The film revolves around Marlon Brando’s legendary portrayal of Terry Malloy, a longshoreman and former boxer who gets mixed up in violence and corruption in the dockyards. In film history, Brando’s portrayal of Terry Malloy is regarded as one of his most iconic roles. A dockworker named Terry Malloy finds himself entangled in the violent and corrupt world of the dockyards; this is the story that On the Waterfront tells.

The movie looks at themes like redemption, loyalty, and the conflict between one’s own morality & social pressure. Between his growing conscience, which forces him to confront the corruption, and his loyalty to his brother Charley, who is a part of the corrupt union, Terry finds himself divided. Johnny Friendly, a strong union boss, controls the dockyards & resorts to violence and intimidation to keep his position of authority. Because of loyalty and fear, Terry is reluctant to report what he sees as a witness to the murder that Friendly and his goons are planning. But his meeting with the murdered man’s sister, Edie Doyle, starts to jolt him into action & awaken his conscience.

Terry’s involvement in the corruption begins to become more apparent as he grows closer to Edie and her pursuit of justice. He starts to understand that by remaining silent, he is not only supporting injustice & violence in the dockyards but also betraying his own moral principles. Terry gathers the guts to testify against Johnny Friendly and his gang despite the dangers, with the assistance of Father Barry, a local priest and worker advocate. Socially conscious & realistic filmmaking was a hallmark of On the Waterfront director Elia Kazan. His partnership with Marlon Brando on this film would turn out to be one of the most fruitful in the history of cinema.

He was a well-known figure in the American theater and film industries. The Dockworkers’ Union opposed the film On the Waterfront, believing it was an attack on their union, among other obstacles facing the production. Kazan and his crew had to overcome these challenges without compromising the integrity of their film’s vision. Notwithstanding the challenges, Kazan managed to capture the harsh reality of the working class & provide a realistic & gritty portrayal of the dockyards. The realism and meticulous attention to detail in Kazan’s directing of On the Waterfront are striking.

His actors were encouraged to incorporate their personal experiences and feelings into their performances, and he employed a blend of studio sets and on-location shooting to achieve an authentic feel. The powerful & realistic performances in the movie were largely a result of this method, also known as the Method, which was especially well-suited to Marlon Brando’s acting style. Considered as one of the greatest actors in movie history, Marlon Brando was one of the most important and influential performers of his generation.

A trailblazer of the Method acting style, which emphasizes the use of one’s own experiences and feelings to create genuine & realistic characters, Brando is well-known for his intense and emotionally charged performances. In order to play Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, Brando became well-versed in the dockyard environment. He observed & heard the stories of actual longshoremen while spending time with them.

In order to be physically fit for the part, he also underwent boxing training. Raw, powerful, and profoundly moving, Brando’s performance demonstrates his devotion to authenticity and his passion to his craft. Terry Malloy is portrayed by Brando, who excels at subtly and nuancedly expressing a wide range of emotions. Brando gives a character depth and complexity that ranges from the sensitivity & perplexity of a man divided between loyalty & conscience to the bravery and resolve of a man willing to confront injustice. He gives an outstanding acting performance that demonstrates his ability to fully inhabit and bring a role to life on screen.

In a way that is both captivating and realistic, Brando’s portrayal of Terry Malloy brings to life his complex and multifaceted persona. Terry appears to be a straightforward & unassuming character at the start of the movie, content to participate in the violence and corruption that occur in the dockyards. Terry’s internal conflict and his quest for atonement, however, are revealed as the narrative progresses.

Terry’s relationship with Eva Marie Saint’s character Edie Doyle and his developing conscience are what propel him toward transformation. Terry is forced to face his own involvement in the corruption by Edie’s presence because she stands for justice & hope. Terry learns to doubt the principles & convictions that have guided his life via his interactions with Edie and Father Barry, & in the end, he musters the courage to confront the injustice he sees around him. Because he represents the everyman—the regular person caught up in extraordinary circumstances—Terry Malloy’s character is important in the history of cinema.

His transformation from indifference to action is a universal tale of moral awakening & personal development, and Brando’s portrayal of this character sensitively and skillfully conveys the nuance and complexity of this character. On the Waterfront has a great supporting cast that adds to the overall impact of the movie, but Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Terry Malloy is unquestionably its standout performance. Eva Marie Saint portrays Edie Doyle with strength, vulnerability, and resolve in a compelling performance. There is an obvious chemistry between her and Brando, & their scenes together are among the most memorable in the movie.

Lee D. Cobb has a frightening, larger-than-life presence as the corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly. Cobb gives a menacing yet captivating performance that brilliantly captures the strength and authority that Johnny has over the dockyards. Father Barry, played by Karl Malden, gives the movie a feeling of moral authority and compassion. His persona acts as Terry’s moral compass & offers direction and encouragement on his path to atonement. The success of the movie On the Waterfront is largely due to the supporting cast’s performances.

The story becomes more intricate as a result of the actors’ depth and nuance in their individual parts, which also increases the film’s overall impact. One of the most important contributions to the visual aesthetic and emotional impact of Boris Kaufman’s On the Waterfront is his cinematography. A stark and gritty atmosphere that captures the harsh realities of the dockyards is created by Kaufman’s use of black and white photography in conjunction with his deft framing and composition. Light & shadow contrast, which gives the images on screen more depth & texture, is a defining feature of the film’s visual aesthetic.

The emotional impact of the movie is also greatly influenced by Leonard Bernstein’s music from On the Waterfront. The tension and drama of the narrative are captured in Bernstein’s evocative and menacing score. The emotional impact of certain scenes is heightened by the use of percussion and brass instruments, which give the music a sense of urgency and intensity. A significant influence on the American film industry, On the Waterfront is recognized as a landmark film. When it was first released, it was met with great critical & commercial success.

It took home eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Elie Kazan), and Best Actor (Marlon Brando). The movie’s strong narrative, gripping acting, and examination of subjects that appeal to viewers are all factors in its success. The way that On the Waterfront explored loyalty, corruption, and redemption in the 1950s and now still has an impact on viewers.

Subsequent movies that have addressed related subjects & examined working-class struggles have been influenced by the movie. Filmmakers and artists have been influenced by it for many years due to its realistic depiction of the dockyards and its exploration of social and political issues. On the Waterfront’s development and premiere were not without controversy. During the 1950s Red Scare, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg—both former Communist Party members—were summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A lot of people criticized Kazan and boycotted his work because he chose to work with HUAC and reveal names.

The film’s premiere and reception were overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Kazan’s testimony and the movie’s apparent political overtones. Many believed the movie to be a betrayal of Kazan’s former colleagues and a defense of his actions. Others countered that the politics surrounding the film’s production shouldn’t overshadow the film’s merits, & that it should be evaluated solely on its own. On the Waterfront examines issues like loyalty, corruption, and the pursuit of justice that are still pertinent in today’s world.

Audiences today can relate to the film’s exploration of the importance of group action and the individual’s duty to confront injustice. It is important to remember that despite insurmountable obstacles, change is achievable, as demonstrated by Terry Malloy’s journey from inaction to action. His narrative serves as a tribute to the strength of the human conscience & the significance of speaking out against injustice. Beyond its influence on cinematic history, On the Waterfront has left a lasting legacy.

It serves as a reminder of the ability of movies to inspire change & throw light on social and political issues. The movie’s enduring appeal and positive reviews attest to its timeless themes and capacity to strike a chord with viewers of all ages.


What is “On the Waterfront”?

“On the Waterfront” is a 1954 American crime drama film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando. The film tells the story of a longshoreman who becomes involved in corrupt union practices on the New York City waterfront.

Who is Marlon Brando?

Marlon Brando was an American actor and film director. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest actors in the history of American cinema. Brando won two Academy Awards for Best Actor, for his performances in “On the Waterfront” and “The Godfather.”

What is Marlon Brando’s defining performance in “On the Waterfront”?

Marlon Brando’s defining performance in “On the Waterfront” is his portrayal of Terry Malloy, a former boxer turned longshoreman who becomes embroiled in a corrupt union. Brando’s performance is widely regarded as one of the greatest in the history of American cinema.

Who directed “On the Waterfront”?

“On the Waterfront” was directed by Elia Kazan, an American film and theatre director, producer, and screenwriter. Kazan was a leading figure in the development of method acting, and he directed several other films that are considered classics of American cinema, including “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “East of Eden.”

What is the theme of “On the Waterfront”?

The theme of “On the Waterfront” is corruption and redemption. The film explores the corrupt practices of the longshoremen’s union on the New York City waterfront, and the struggle of one man, Terry Malloy, to break free from the influence of the union and find redemption for his past actions.

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