19 – On The Waterfront (1954)

Terry: Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you.
Seen before?

R: No.

F: Me neither.


R: It’s amazing how much this packs in within its relatively short running time of 103 minutes. It reminded me of season two of The Wire, except the story is told in a fraction of the time and a lot more happens!

F: This does rattle on at quite a pace. I feel we get to know the characters well though, although there are some stereotypes in there. I feel I may need to see this again as I’m sure there was lots I missed!

R: Now we’re at the business end of the list, I’m sure we’ll feel that way about a lot of the films we haven’t seen before. But I think what impressed me most was how much character development you get alongside the pacey plot. The arc for Terry’s character is one I’m sure they study in film schools, it’s so well done and the development of his character is totally believable.

F: Yes there’s always the internal conflict there in Terry and it’s the main thread of the film to see the change in him. I feel I’ve seen this kind of story done many times before (though can’t think of any examples now!) but this is one of the better versions I’ve seen.

R: The story is pretty Disney-esque, with the hero struggling with peer pressure and deciding between what’s easy and what’s right. Of course the setting makes it feel more grown-up, but the morality of “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing” really is the stuff of fairy tales. We saw the same themes in High Noon, and it’s probably what gives both films such universal appeal.

F: Yes I also like the message of this film that just because you recognise you’ve done bad things, people won’t immediately forgive you. Terry has to really prove himself to everyone. And I like the comparison with High Noon. Another thing that really struck me about this film was the sound. There’s the scene where Terry confesses to Edie and the sound really made an impact. If feels very industrial if that makes sense?

R: It does, which of course means it fits well with the setting. There’s a really brutalist, no-nonsense feel to the whole film, and Marlon Brando is the intense brooding engine at the heart of it. I think I like his performance here even more than I did in Streetcar.

F: Agreed. It’s a great central performance that really lifts the film. And he’s helped by a strong supporting cast too. I also want to mention the cinematography. I commented when the film started how old it looked but I think this is deliberate. Makes the whole setting feel worn and tired.

R: You might be right. This certainly has a much more realistic feel than many other films from this period. We’ve complained about other films from the 50s feeling too stagey; this definitely isn’t.

F: No not at all. One of the most realistic films on the list!

Is it worthy of the top 100?

R: Gotta be.

F: Yes it is.

Up next:
18 – The General (1927)
20 – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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