Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 19, No. 1. March 2, 1955
Marlon Brando in . . . — 'On The Waterfront'
Marlon Brando in . . .
'On The Waterfront'
This is Marlon Brando's picture. He proves himself to be the most exciting actor on the screen today. Not that his performance in "On The Waterfront" is an eye-opener: we have already seen him in "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Viva Zapata," "The Men," "Julius Caesar" and "Desiree". .
The part of Terry Malloy—his most difficult to date—presents a character in three layers—superficially tough, "softly" sentimental and seriously tough, climaxed by his anger on the death of his brother. On top of this we have the variations and overtones of the bum, the ex-prize fighter, tho pigeon keeper, the shy lover, the younger brother of the big boss. The scriptwriter can draw the outlines of such a character but only a skilful actor can give the whole convincing picture. Marlon Brando is superb, as sure and as bold as a tightrope walker. It's all a question of balance. Too much toughness and the audience forget the finer feelings; too much gentleness and the audience forget the type of character Terry Malloy wants to be. Too much anger and the audience is reminded of the tough-guy's greatest sin—lack of self-control. Too much sympathy with pigeons and the audience is reminded of the country and the noise of crickets, which Terry confesses makes him nervous. Brando never falters and he is never in danger of stumbling. Brando crosses the line and his delicate performance docs not fall. The audience is moved and excited.
Yes, Terry's story is a delicate matter, Brando does his bit to perfection, but if the line sometimes lacks the necessary tautness. Director Elia Kazan and his scriptwriter must take the blame. Some have found Terry's conversion unconvincing. This, I suggest, is because Kazan and Boris Kaufman lacked tho sense of balance of their leading man, his sensitivity. Kaufman did not make Terry's conversion too sudden, but too clear-cut. Up to the evidence at the crime commission, delicate Terry then a wholly believable character, but then he becomes more remote, too much of the superman, too full of strong moral fibre. If Kaufman had given us one brief scene of remorse, repentance, doubt, Terry Malloy would have again been the human being we had known before.
But if Kaufman's sympathy with his character is not broad enough, Kazan's understanding is less evident because of his technician's love of variety. From the first beats of a drum and the moan of a saxophone in the sound track. I realised that from time to time the audience would be reminded that behind the scenes some personality from luxurious Hollywood was there to direct operations—on the waterfront. The camera work was perhaps a little too fussy, the sound track a little too noisy. In the scene of Terry's confession of guilt to Eddy, it was a clever idea to have the loud toots of ships drowning their voices. But no audience when watching a moving story likes to be reminded that the shipowners of the location were being paid say 600 dollars for their noisy services. An audience, while watching a film should be made to forget the director. It is only on the way home to supper and discussion that an audience recognises and appreciates a great director.
Too Much Variety
Nevertheless, if Kazan's sympathy is remote and his talent just short of greatness, for a director being paid 50,000 dollars per film he does a first-rate job, even if he leaves the job of moving an audience to his players. Kazan's contribution to the entertainment is certainly exciting and within limits, masterly. He makes full use of his location—from the busy docks to the wintry park outside the church. The background of the story, the atmosphere and the setting is taken from a world of butchers and camel-hair coats, drunken women, dark alleys and Are escapes. And he tells his story with pace and terseness: but with perhaps (I say it again) a little too much striving for variety of effect.
He is generally happy with his casting. Karl Maiden is not the stereotype priest, but has a high-pitched voice with traces of human anger, pettiness and disillusionment—and an oddly-shaped nose. Eva Marie Saint happily has not a high-pitched voice, nor in she the sickly sterotyped heroine. Lee J. Cobb as Johnny Friendly is the only stumbling actor. He has played thin kind of role so often and in so many second-rate films that "On the Waterfront" seems to drop whenever he takes centre-stage. And Kazan should have controlled his inaudible shouting near the end of the film.
"On The Waterfront" is a first-rate film, but not a great one. Acting from a great actor; direction from a first-rate director. Who is going to dispute the meaning of these two terms?