Movie Review of 'On the Waterfront'

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Reaction: On the Waterfront (1956) Even before I saw Eli Kazan's On the Waterfront, I was familiar with the line of Marlon Brando's: "I could have been a contender." I knew, even before watching the film, that Brando played an ex-boxer with broken dreams. I also knew that the film had been made during the McCarthy era, around the time of the 'red scare.' In the film, Brando's character Terry Malloy witnesses a murder, and is encouraged to turn in the perpetrators, even though his union bosses are involved. The film portrays the dockworker Malloy's decision to come forward as a heroic one, partially rooted in his love for the dead man's sister Edie. (Edie's brother was killed for the same reason as Terry is being persecuted he informed on the union bosses). Knowing the back story of the film, I felt somewhat uncomfortable 'rooting' for Brando to turn in his bosses, given that the film could be read as a defense of turning in people during the McCarthy era. The film portrays unions as made up of villains. Malloy is one of 'them' a union member until he becomes so tormented by his conscience he cannot help but come forward. He cannot live with himself unless he speaks. Eventually, because of the public courage of his convictions, the other longshoremen side with Terry. The film is powerful as a story in and of itself, regardless of what the director intended it to symbolize. It can be read as an indictment of corruption and concealment in all industries, as members
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