the Waterfront" is my favorite movie.
I have no idea when I first discovered it, but it was probably
at 4am watching the late late movies in New York. Marlon
Brando was at his peak. He passed, on doing the movie, at
first, then Frank Sinatra agreed to do it, then Brando changed
his mind and signed on. The
gritty black & white New York waterfront (actually Hoboken,
New Jersey) and the working class ethic of "don't let
the bastards drag you down" so resonated with my own
working class roots. Eva Marie Saint, the princess of Catholic
girls in her first film role, the classic struggle between
right and wrong , the famous "I could'a been a contenda"
scene, it all sends a chill down my neck. As
with anything good, it was rejected by the first studio
that director Kazan took it to. It was written by Budd Schulberg,
whose father worked at Paramount Pictures. Turned off by
the Hollywood scene, he was living in Pennsylvania writing
novels when Elia Kazan approached him about writing a screenplay,
promising not to interfere with his creative process. Budd
spent time on the waterfront scene in the part of Manahattan
controlled by the Irish mob. The priest in the movie who
instigates the upset of Mob control, was based on an actual
streetwise priest from St Xavier's there. I
doubt if things have changed much for the working person
since 1954 when this film was released. The struggle is
harder than ever. Just look at Wal-Mart: you get a cheap
price on the latest Britney Spears CD while the WalMart
employee gets poverty wages and no health insurance. Don't
get me started! Here's the famous "I could've been
TERRY (Marlon Brando)
Gee, Charley, I'm sure glad you stopped by for me.
I needed to talk to you.
What's it they say about blood, it's- (falters)
CHARLEY (Rod Steiger)
(looking away coldly) Thicker than water.
(gravel voice, without turning around) Where to?
Four thirty-seven River Street.
River Street? I thought we was going to the Garden.
I've got to cover a bet on the way over. Anyway,
it gives us a chance to talk.
(good-naturedly) Nothing ever stops you from talking, Charley.
The grapevine says you picked up a subpoena.
(Noncommittal, Sullen) That's right...
(watching for his reaction) Of course, the boys know you
to mark you down for a cheese-eater.
You know the boys are getting rather interested in your
They feel you've been sort of left out of things, Terry.
it's time you had a few things going for you on the docks.
A steady job and a few bucks extra, that's all I wanted.
Sure, that's alright when you're a kid, but you'll be pushing
pretty soon, slugger. It's time you got some ambition.
I always figured I'd live longer without it.
(Terry looks at him)
There's a slot for boss loader on the new pier we're opening
(interested) Boss Loader!
Ten cents a hundred pounds on everything that moves in and
And you don't have to lift a finger. It'll be three-four
hundred a week
just for openers.
And for all that dough I don't have to do nothin'?
Absolutely nothing. You do nothing and you say nothing.
You understand, don't you kid?
(struggling with an unfamiliar problem of conscience and
Yeah-yeah-I guess I do-but there's alot more to this whole
than I thought, Charley.
You don't mean that you're thinking of testifying against-
(turns a thumb in toward himself)
I don't know-I don't know! I tell you I ain't made up my
That's what I wanted to talk to you about.
(patiently, as to a stubborn child)
Listen, Terry, these piers we handle through the local-
you know what they're worth to us?
I know. I know.
Well, then, you know Cousin Johnny isn't going to jeopardize
a setup like that for one rubber lipped-
(simultaneous) Don't say that!
(continuing) -ex-tanker who's walking on his heels-?
Don't say that!
What the hell!!!
I could've been better
Listen, that isn't the point.
I could've been better.
The point is, there isn't much time kid.
(There is a painful pause as they appraise each other.)
(desperately) I tell you, Charley, I haven't made up my
Make up your mind, kid, I beg you, before we get to four
(stunned) Four thirty-seven-that isn't where Gerry G...?
(Charley nods solemnly. Terry grows more agitated.)
Charley, you wouldn't take me to Gerry G...?
(Charley continues looking at him. He does not deny it.
They stare at each other for a moment.
Then suddenly Terry starts out of the cab. Charley pulls
Terry is motionless, now, looking at Charley.
Take the boss loading, kid. For God's sake. I don't want
to hurt you.
(hushed, gently guiding the gun down to Charley's lap)
(genuinely) I wish I didn't have to do this Terry.
(Terry eyes him, beaten. Charley leans back and looks at
Terry raises his hands above his head somewhat in the manner
of a prizefighter
mitting the crowd. The image nicks Charley's memory.)
(an accusing sigh) Wow...
(gently) What do you weigh these days, slugger?
(shrugs) -eighty-seven, eighty-eight. What's it to you?
(nostalgically) Gee, when you tipped one seventy-five you
You shoud've been another Billy Conn. That skunk I got to
manage you brought you along too fast.
It wasn't him! (years of abuse crying out in him)
It was you, Charley. You and Johnny. Like the night the
two of youse
come in the dressing room and says, ' Kid, this ain't your
We're going for the price on Wilson.' It ain't my night.
I'd of taken Wilson apart that night! I was ready- remember
the early rounds
throwing them combinations. So what happens- This bum Wilson
he gets the title shot-
outdoors in the ball park!- and what do I get- a couple
of bucks and a one-way ticket
(more and more aroused as he relives it)
It was you, Charley. You was my brother. You should've looked
out for me.
Instead of making me take them dives for the short-end money.
(defensively) I always had a bet down for you. You saw some
(agonized) You don't understand! I could've been a contender.
I could've had class
and been somebody. Real class. Instead of a bum, let's face
it, which is what I am.
It was you, Charley.
(Charley takes a long fond look at Terry. Then he glances
quickly out the window.)
MEDIUM SHOT WATERFRONT NIGHT
From Charley's angle. A gloomy light reflects the street
It was you, Charley...
(turning back to Terry, his tone suddenly changed)
Okay- I'll tell him I couldn't bring you in. Ten to one
they won't believe it,
but- go ahead, blow. Jump out, quick, and keep going...
and God help you from here on in.