When I read this assignment, I immediately thought back to high school. In English class my senior year, we devoted all of the time after the AP exam to film studies. This entailed the entire class analyzing several films, then doing analyses of films individually. I still remember the films quite clearly. As a class, we dissected Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane. As for the individual analyses, each student was tasked with selecting a film from the AFI 100 and defending it as the best film of all time. Not an easy task. I chose Dr. Strangelove, which is still quite possibly my favorite movie. I could have watched it again for this assignment, but I figured it would be more fun to select a film I’ve never seen. I watched my classmates present on a bunch of other movies, too, so I steered clear of those as well. Eventually I settled on Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront.”
This film goes on for two extremely compelling hours. The character development is outstanding. Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint play the two leading romantic interests, and their acting is very convincing. Brando is an ex-boxer turned dock worker who is in over his head in a corrupt union. He falls for Eva Saint Marie, who is the sister of a man the union bosses had killed. His affection for her causes a change in heart that leads him to try to stand up to the bosses, but his ties to the past threaten to bring him down. It’s a good story. Here’s a clip of the two interacting:
My two favorite lines from the clip are when Brando says “Shut up about that conscience, that’s all I been hearing!” and when Eva Saint Marie says (shouts) “I didn’t say I didn’t love you, I said stay away from me!” This is a fairly tense part of the film, in case you couldn’t tell. The writing and acting for it are spot on. I also really like the camera work, especially when the leads move out of sight for a few seconds. To tie it into Ebert’s article, I found the kiss at the end of the clip to be very interesting. In the clip, Brando is on the right, and Saint Marie is on the left. In the screenshot from “Notorious” used by Ebert, Ingrid Bergman is on the right, and Cary Grant is on the left. This seems to go against the rules of thumb listed by Ebert, which would have suggested that the more positive Saint Marie be on the right. I don’t know if this was done intentionally or not, and to judge either way would be beyond my qualifications. I simply found it interesting.
I feel like it wouldn’t be right to make a post about “On the Waterfront” without including its most famous scene. So here it is:
This scene definitely adheres to Ebert’s suggested rules. Brando is on the right, the positive side. His corrupt older brother is on the left, implying that he is something more negative. If I were to venture into the slightly more pretentious critic category, I might even suggest that the brother is slightly in front of Brando in the beginning part of the clip to suggest that he is dominant up to that point in the film. But that may be pushing it. On a slightly more objective note, the music in the background of this scene really works, as does the shifting of camera shots.
If I were to brand this film with AMC film genres, I would say it’s a combination of drama and crime/gangster. The crime/gangster portion is obvious, as the film revolves around union corruption and organized crime. The drama description listed on that site is also ridiculously accurate. The characters in the film are all serious and realistic, and the film is plot-driven and contains “intense character development and interaction.” As far as tropes are concerned, I would go with the specific drama trope “Grew A Spine.” The entire film revolves around Brando’s character’s struggle to act for himself. Tropes are fascinating and accurate. I’m going to go read some more about them.