Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 7. 1964.
'On The Waterfront'
'On The Waterfront'
Dear Sir,—It seems that your correspondent Bill Alexander supports Penelope Houston's appraisal of Elia Kazan's "On the waterfront." Miss Houston is a member of the editorial board of "Sight and Sound," the British film magazine, and as such, toes the party line which "Sight and Sound" has had towards all of Kazan's films and to "On the Waterfront" in particular. In their survey of the 1954 films their comment was: "On the Waterfront" . . . undoubted but spurious talent. The general opinion was that Kazan's ethic was savagely right-wing and Lindsay Anderson in particular detected fascist implications in the last sequence.
Mr. Alexander favours a religious interpretation of Brando's agonised walk down the quay, i.e.. "... a new purged Brando leads the men to work in defiance of the gangster unionists." Father Barry says over Dougan's body, "Every time the mob steps on a good man it's a crucifixion." Thus Terry Malloy is crucified to atone for the sins (apathy) of the group.
It seems to me that this interpretation reads too much into the material. "If Terry don't work we don't work"—the other wharfles realise that Terry has been carrying on their fight for them. "If Terry walks in we walk In with him"—one can detect a strong atmosphere of shame in their actions. In this proposal they have not, as Anderson has suggested, given Terry the opportunity ol a show of strength in order that he may become their new leader, rather they are urging Terry to lead them into work as a token of their recognition of his efforts on their behalf. "Work—he can't even walk!"—Johnny Friendly's challenge reduces things to a personal level and Terry's walk can be regarded as his ultimate triumph over Friendly and his gang.
It may be that Charlie's murder earlier in the film was the final straw and this one Incident was the sole cause of Terry's testimony on the waterfront rackets before the Commission, but I think that this is not the case, as there are many signs of Terry's moral awakening before this incident, e.g., "Everybody's been yelling at me about conscience." "Charlie, it's not as simple as I thought.
Indeed, Kazan, aided by Brando's consummate performance, has presented a subtle and uncompromising study of the moral awakening of a sensitive bruiser against the background of waterfront conditions. I think that there are deeper things involved here than mere technical brilliance, as Miss Houston would have us believe, but it is undoubtedly true that at the technical level, "On the Waterfront" remains an impressive and exciting visual experience.
This, however, is not the issue at stake.
R. G. Benson.