It was an Elia Kazan weekend here. Last night I followed Kazan's BOOMERANG! with the interesting documentary ELIA KAZAN: A DIRECTOR'S JOURNEY (1995) which is part of the DVD Special Edition of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. The documentary chronologically covered all of Kazan's films and was quite well done.
Tonight I watched ON THE WATERFRONT, which I first saw when I was 15. I remember it that well as the occasion was a bit unusual, a marathon of Academy Award winning movies at the late, lamented Filmex festival in Century City, CA. (During the previous year's musical marathon, my father and I literally stayed up all night watching OKLAHOMA!, WEST SIDE STORY, and MY FAIR LADY. Classic movies were so relatively inaccessible in the '70s that you had to grab any opportunity you could to see them...and besides, the marathon was fun!)
I recently picked up the Special Edition DVD as my college-age daughter and a friend decided it would be fun to work their way through any movies they hadn't seen on AFI's 100 Greatest Movies list, and ON THE WATERFRONT falls in the Top 10 films on the list. I decided to watch it myself before shipping it off to the dorm. I hadn't seen it in many years so it was a treat to view the film with fresh eyes. It was as gripping and engrossing as I remembered. You don't want to take your eyes off the screen for a second or you might miss a look, a gesture; every moment of the film has significance.
It was especially interesting seeing ON THE WATERFRONT having recently seen both BOOMERANG! and PANIC IN THE STREETS, earlier Kazan films which also made great use of location photography and authentic-looking extras. I was struck that ON THE WATERFRONT has so many of the same elements as the film noir movies I've watched in recent months. An (initially) morally ambiguous hero, a crime boss, bad men in trenchcoats and fedoras, a crime investigation...the gritty look and location filming, scary night scenes, shadows, murder, etc. Has anyone ever called ON THE WATERFRONT film noir? I suppose it transcends the genre, but the comparisons kind of intrigue me.
I'm sure it doesn't need to be said that ON THE WATERFRONT stars Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, and Rod Steiger. All give towering performances. The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture -- beating out my all-time favorite movie, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS.
ON THE WATERFRONT runs 108 minutes. The striking black and white cinematography was by Boris Kaufman. The music was by Leonard Bernstein, who a few years later composed the score for another great New York tale, WEST SIDE STORY.
The DVD mentioned above has a beautiful print, a commentary track, photo gallery, and a very interesting 25-minute featurette centering mainly on the famous taxi scene.
ON THE WATERFRONT has also been released on VHS. It can be seen on cable on TCM. It next airs on TCM on May 2 and June 23, 2007.
April 2013 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see this film introduced by Eva Marie Saint at the TCM Classic Film Festival.