Bonnie's Film Website

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront (1954); Not Rated
Dockworker Terry Malloy had been an up-and-coming boxer until powerful local mob boss Johnny Friendly persuaded him to throw a fight. When a longshoreman is murdered before he can testify about Friendly's control of the Hoboken waterfront, Terry teams up with the dead man's sister Edie and the streetwise priest Father Barry to testify himself, against the advice of Friendly's lawyer, Terry's older brother Charley.


Personal Response:

  1. I think the theme of On the Waterfront is standing up against injustices. The mob that controls the waterfront is unjust and corrupt. At first, Terry agrees to and follows the mob’s practices. However, as the movie progresses, Terry feels guilty about his involvement with the mob. He realizes all the things that the mob has cost him: the guilt of leading Joey to his death, how leading Joey to his death almost ruined his relationship with Edie, the death of his brother Charley, and his prizefighting career. Due to Terry’s remorse, he testifies against mob leader Johnny Friendly. At first, this results in Terry’s friends and fellow waterfront workers scorning him. Even Tommy, a boy that looked up to Terry, killed all of his pigeons because he snitched on the mob. When Terry goes to try to get a job at the waterfront, he is not hired, and the mob beats him up. However, the waterfront workers stand with Terry and say they will not work if Terry does not work. Terry ends up walking onto the dock, successful in his fight against the mob.
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  3. The filmmaking component that stood out to me the most was the literary element. I thought the characters and symbols in the film were very original. I think that although there have been many conflicted characters who have a battle with their conscience about right and wrong, Terry is a unique character. He does not change for Edie, he changes for himself. He knows his guilt will keep growing and growing unless he confesses the crimes of the mob. Additionally, the pigeons in the film are a symbol of those who try to go against the mob. Terry takes care of Joey’s pigeons after Joey died trying to testify against the mob. And, the more Terry feels guilty about the mob, the more he cares for Joey’s pigeons. However, just like how people do not like pigeons, people also do not like and look down on “snitches”. Once Terry testifies against Johnny Friendly and the mob, his pigeons are killed by Tommy, a boy who used to idolize Terry. Tommy is upset that Terry didn’t play “D and D” and snitched on the mob. However, unlike how the pigeons died, Terry gets a happy ending because he snitched.
  4. The “universe” that is established in On the Waterfront comes from the shooting of the film itself. The movie was shot in 36 days at an actual waterfront in New Jersey. There is no glamour, and the audience practically feels like they are in the film. Additionally, mostly all of the characters in the movie are afraid of the mob. Realistically, they are not all heroes. Also, the characters in the film seem like real people with real complex personalities. The film’s realism is what establishes its universe. The universe of the film is just like what a corrupt waterfront would be like in the 1950s in real life. But, within this universe, there are hidden symbols and images that aren’t usually seen in the common world. I think these symbols and images play key roles in the movie’s universe because, although the film does seem lifelike, it still has elements that make it a movie.
  5. The scene that struck me the most is the last scene. Terry is walking towards the dock after being assaulted by the mob. After the priest says that Johnny Friendly does not think Terry will get up, he tries with all his power to defy the odds. He is heroically standing up to Johnny Friendly and the mob and standing with the workers on the waterfront. I kept thinking that Terry was going to fall over while walking, but he makes it and goes onto the dock. I liked this scene a lot because I think it showed the reward that Terry, Edie, Joey, and all the other people who risked their lives to fight against the mob received.
  6. I enjoyed watching this movie. After seeing the first 30 minutes, I did not know if I was going to really like the movie. However, after understanding it a bit better, I got more into it. I really loved the ending, because I think happy and satisfying endings are tricky to get right. With an unhappy ending, the audience views it as practical. However, with cheerful endings, the audience (including me) sometimes think it was too much of a cliché. For a movie that is known for being so realistic, the stripped-down plot (male protagonist stands up against evil and gets the girl) does seem a bit story-like and impractical. This shows how much the writers and directors and actors and editors had to put into their performance and role in the film. They had to show that it was not a cookie-cutter plot, but a revolutionary story that transcends what people think of certain storylines. I also really like Edie’s character, because I thought she was a strong woman who stood up against the mob for her brother and her family. Overall, I really liked watching this movie and thought it was terrific.