Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Conscience... That Stuff Can Drive You Nuts!

It was so hard not to put the immortal monologue portion from On The Waterfront as the title here. 'You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.' There is a damn good reason that line is immortal, is one of the great recognisable lines - because it is so freaking good. Not just that the words themselves are brilliant, but that Marlon Brando's delivery of them is so incredibly moving. Just thinking about them, about his performance in the back of that car, makes my entire inner being heavy. Far beyond bringing tears to the eyes (it doesn't do that to me), it makes me want to lie down in a dark room and just give up. Yes, it is that good.

The whole film is very good, in fact, but it will be that scene that will stick with you for its sheer power. Brando plays Terry, an ex fighter who is now a longshoreman working the docks in New Jersey (I assumed is was NJ - correct me if I'm wrong.) He is valued by mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who runs the docks, and assists in an early murder of someone who Johnny wasn't too keen on. Subsequently, he befriends the man's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint) and mourns the responsibility he feels for the role he played in her sorrow. Edie, in turn, is angry about what happened to her brother and the position she can see her father and Terry in, introducing Terry to Father Barry (Karl Malden), who is determined to break the mob's stranglehold on the docks and see fairness instilled in the workplace. Terry's opinions change and his loyalties shift as love blossoms, seeing him taking a central role in his own self-actuation as something more than just a bum.

The film won eight Oscars, and was notably nominated three times in the Best Supporting Actor race, for Cobb, Malden and Rod Steiger - none of them won, presumably because of a serious split in the voting for them. Director Elia Kazan deservedly picked up his second Oscar for his turn helming the film, drawing out such incredible performances to yield five acting nominations and two wins (for Brando and Saint in a bit of a category-fraud Supporting Actress result), as well as delicately weaving the film through melodramatic possibilities to keep it in check and in touch with the reality of the situation. Beautifully shot in black and white by Boris Kaufman, the film is a true classic of American cinema, heeding its post-noir placement with Kazan showing his European roots in his handling of what is ostensibly a gangster tale. 5 stars.

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