On the Waterfront (1954)

Elia Kazan’s gripping tale of racket busting on the New Jersey docklands provides a showcase for the Method acting of Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger.

Film details

Cast & Credits

Introduction

“This powerful, grim drama successfully integrated the realism of the location photography with the naturalism of the acting to achieve a deeply felt and intensely moving motion picture.”
Ephraim Katz, The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1998

Winner of eight Academy Awards, including best picture, On the Waterfront is nonetheless one of Hollywood’s most controversial masterpieces.

The story of dockworker and former boxer Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) breaking the stranglehold that corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) has over the waterfront, Kazan’s film has been seen by some critics as a dramatised justification for ‘naming names’, as both Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg had done during the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee witch-hunts.

With an electrifying score by Leonard Bernstein, the film is a milestone in American screen acting: the celebrated scene in the back of a taxi in which Terry confronts his crooked brother Charley (Steiger) is a riveting vindication of the Actors’ Studio method of inhabiting a character’s psyche.

Brando’s previous collaboration with Elia Kazan was the 1951 film version of their stage sensation, an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Latest from the BFI

  • Latest from the BFI

    Latest news, features and opinion.

More information

Films, TV and people

  • Films, TV and people

    Film lists and highlights from BFI Player.

More information

Sight & Sound magazine

  • Sight & Sound magazine

    Reviews, interviews and features from the international film magazine.

More information

Back to the top