‘I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead I am a bum…’ That is not true of ON THE WATERFRONT. It was never a bum. It was more than a contender. It was a heavy weight champion. Flexing its muscles in many departments, it is hard to say what it is still best know for. However we have The Criterion Collection to thank for this essential restoration of a best picture winner for all times.

The docks are controlled by a union. Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) runs his with an iron-fist. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a dockworker whose brother Charley “the Gent” (Rod Steiger) is Friendly’s finance man. Counting cash and overseeing the resolution of problems. One such problem, just came off a roof. He was Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner). Terry coaxed him on to the roof that he had an ‘accident’ from. The Waterfront Crime Commission know Friendly is behind it, but witnesses play “D and D” (“deaf and dumb”), Terry however changes his mind after meeting and falling in love with Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint).

There is so much to talk to about ON THE WATERFRONT is and never has been tainted by Kazan, HUAC and the central pivot of ‘Snitching is not wrong.’ I appreciate and understand the complexities of the event for Kazan and those condemned by his actions. The film is bigger than this and is under served by this conversation. It is truly Marlon’s film. He broods and pouts but he is riveting on the screen. Malden and Steiger are exceptional as well.

But again Cobb is something else. He swaggers and stalks. Like an animal in heat. He stalks and swipes. His prey are scattered. You understand the menace of the man. He reminded me of actors like Paul Muni. Who could morph into another being. Still maintaining the face and gaunt but becoming more than his own being. So you see when we talk of the political stance, background, baggage and the like of those behind the scenes we miss so much more of a film that has a wealth to offer. Watch without prejudice.  It serves the film better.


4K. I cried at its simplicity and bathed in its reverence. Little more can be said than this. It looks and feels like never before. I have seen it screened, DVD, Blu Ray and VHS. This is the preferred and most potent.


I will dispense with my favoured, top 3 today. The first reason is that the second disc has two alternative presentations of the film and this is very interesting. Widescreen serves it better on a big screen but full screen is for those with limited space. The first disc has so much good stuff on it. Schickel and Young (the best commentary I have heard. Drenched in insight, information and two conversations). Scorsese and Jones (Short but valuable as two men who know art and background). New documentary  sheds light, opens door and asks a pointed question. Then the doc Elia Kazan: Outsider. Old work but substantial enough to make use of for the film fan and researcher.


  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Alternate presentations of the feature restoration in two additional aspect ratios: 1.85:1 (widescreen) and 1.33:1 (full-screen)
  • Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS -HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition
  • Commentary featuring authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young
  • New conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones
  • Elia Kazan: Outsider (1982), an hour-long documentary
  • New documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with scholar Leo Braudy, critic David Thomson, and others
  • New interview with actress Eva Marie Saint
  • Interview with director Elia Kazan from 2001
  • Contender, a 2001 documentary on the film’s most famous scene
  • New interview with longshoreman Thomas Hanley, an actor in the film
  • New interview with author James T. Fisher (On the Irish Waterfront) about the real-life people and places behind the film
  • Visual essay on Leonard Bernstein’s score
  • Trailer
  • PLUS : A booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Almereyda and reprints of Kazan’s 1952 ad in the New York Times defending his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, one of the 1948 New York Sun articles by Malcolm Johnson on which the film was based, and a 1953 Commonweal piece by screenwriter Budd Schulberg

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.