Elia Kazan’s working-class drama about ex-boxer turned dockworker Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) taking on union corruption offers poetic glimpses of the New York City skyline from across the Hudson River, on the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey. Terry “I coulda been a contender” Malloy finds himself stuck between a rock and, well, the Hoboken docks, when he becomes embroiled in the shady dealings of the local dockworker’s union headed by Mob-connected boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). As Terry falls for local good girl Edie Doyle (fellow Actors Studio alum Eva Marie Saint) and listens more to the local waterfront priest (Karl Malden), he has to choose between running away and confronting Friendly and his extended gang, including Terry’s own brother (Rod Steiger).
Winner of 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, On the Waterfront stands as a turning point both in American filmmaking and the art of film acting. The representation of blue-collar Hoboken, its characters and settings, resounds and reverberates with authenticity previously rare, if not quite ever seen before, in Hollywood film. With both critical and popular acclaim, the film, and particularly Brando’s performance, popularized Method-style acting and is regularly cited as a watershed moment in cinema.