Archive for April 18th, 2008

It’s tough, on the waterfront. Filmed on location in Hoboken, New jersey it is violent, with strong language – telling a priest to “go to hell”? Shocking stuff in 1954. Director Elia Kazan, the cast, and Boris Kaufmann, who took the pictures, all come out of this gritty drama covered in glory. Which is more than can be said for the characters in the story.

New York dock workers struggle to eke a living but they are in the grip of the corrupt unions. Of course, it is not true that labor unions were, or are, always corrupt, but hey, it’s a story. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), his boxing career behind him, hangs around his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) who is lawyer to union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee Cobb). Neither Charley or Johnny are as nice or as honest as they ought to be. We know Terry is nice because he looks after his pigeons on the rooftop and he once showed promise as a boxer. He could have been a contender.

At Johnny’s request, Terry asks a union worker to meet him on the roof. When Johnny’s henchmen push him off Terry is shocked:

Terry: I figured the worst they was gonna do was lean on him a little bit…
Truck: A canary. Maybe he could sing but he couldn’t fly.

Terry starts to feel guilty when he meets the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). No wonder, she’s the sweet sort of dame who would make any red blooded young man feel guilty about something. Through her he meets Father Barry (Karl Malden) who persuades Terry to give the information that will finish the racketeering on the docks.

Method acting triumphs in On the Waterfront.
All this acclaim, plus the box office success, was well deserved. The dialogue is tight and simple, the brooding tenements and docks are starkly and realistically portrayed. The drama unfolds with menace. The actors are all convincing, even the smaller parts for thugs. Cobb and Steiger make truly villainous villains. For Steiger in particular this is perhaps his finest performance.

Brando’s performance as the inarticulate former pug whose inherent decency forces him, reluctantly, to take on the hoodlums is magnificent. And yet, in the much-parodied car scene in which he delivers the ‘contender’ speech, he is almost acted off the screen by Steiger.
Barry Norman, 100 Best Films of the Century

The memorable scene is where Terry climbs into the back of the car with his brother Steiger who wants to do him a favour. He wants him to get the chip off his shoulder and hang out with the thugs as before.
Certainly, Terry does not feel he owes his brother anything:
Marlon Brando

Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money …. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.

Director: Elia Kazan
Terry Malloy: Marlon Brando
Charley Malloy: Rod Steiger
Johnny Friendly: Lee J. Cobb
Edie Doyle: Eva Marie Saint
Glover: Leif Erickson
Truck: Tony Galento
Kayo Dugan: Pat Henning
Writer: Budd Schulberg
Score: Leonard Bernstein
Academy Awards
Nominated (12)

Won (8)

* Best Picture
* Best Actor (Brando)
* Best Supporting Actress (Saint)
* Best Director
* Best Story and Screenplay
* Best Cinematography
* Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
* Best Editing

compiler: benny

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GWTW – is possibly the most watched film ever. David O. Selznick’s grand obsession was to make a great movie from Margaret Mitchell’s best selling novel of the Civil War. He spent lavishly, recruited great stars (and made one out of Vivien Leigh) and ended up with a piece of cinema that rocked 1939 audiences and still strikes a chord with many today.

Despite an epic canvas, this is fundamentally the story of one vivacious but flawed heroine. Casting the part of Scarlett O’Hara was a piece of hype that had everybody buzzing with anticipation. Actresses were ready to kill to take this coveted role. The field included Lucille Ball, Tallulah Bankhead, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Paulette Goddard, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer and Mae West. Selznick famously ran a 2 year talent search for someone to play the role and 2000 screen tests were done. When Leigh was cast, she was unknown to American audiences, although no stranger to the London stage, or to the bed of Lawrence Olivier.

People were expecting great things of Leigh, and they got them. Her co-star, Clark Gable, gave the performance of his life as Rhett Butler. His part too was hotly contested; Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn all had their names associated with the role at one time or another.

When Rhett Butler tells Scarlet O’Hara:

You need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.

we all know he doesn’t exactly mean “kissing”. The Civil War is merely a backdrop, this is really a story about sex.

Numerous writer and directors worked on the film: George Cukor was replaced by Victor Fleming, kidnapped from directing the unfinished The Wizard of Oz. Fleming collected the Best Director Oscar for GWTW but was himself replaced by Sam Wood, before everything was in the can. Scott Fitzgerald, Ben Hecht and others all had a hand in the screenplay credited to Sidney Howard who won another Oscar, posthumously. Yet more names contributed to the cinematography but the true begetter of this film was David O Selznick.

Hattie McDaniel played the black slave Mammy who dotingly serves Scarlet, while chiding her recklessness. McDaniel was the first black actress to win an Academy Award. McDaniel’s role in Gone With the Wind was such a strong racial stereotype that her award may not actually have moved forward the cause of equality for black actors.

Certainly, the film presents slavery as an acceptable norm. Margaret Mitchell’s romanticized view of the Old South is shown on screen for us to read:

There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…

…and thank goodness it has.

Doubtless, one of the last of those Gallant Cavaliers¬† was Ashley Wilkes, theatrically portrayed by Leslie Howard. A true Southern gentleman who is the object of Scarlett’s ambition. Unfortunately for Scarlett, Ashley plans to marry his demure cousin Melanie Hamilton from Atlanta. Rhett Butler overhears Scarlett’s desperate protestation of love for Ashley. Out of spite, Scarlett marries Melanie’s sickly brother, but is soon widowed when the war begins.

The action moves to Atlanta, where Scarlett meets Rhett again, now much admired as a blockade runner. But one man’s hero is another man’s profiteer:

I believe in Rhett Butler. He’s the only cause I know. The rest doesn’t mean much to me.

Rhett Butler sounds a lot like Casablanca’s Rick Blaine.

The Yankees lay siege to Atlanta. As the city falls to the Union troops, Melanie goes into labor. In a memorable scene we see Scarlett passing among thousand of wounded soldiers as she seeks the doctor. After delivering the baby herself she is rescued by Rhett and in one of the most legendary scenes of the cinema, they drive through the burning city of Atlanta.

The war ends, Ashley returns, Scarlett schemes and deals to bring prosperity back to her beloved Tara, eventually marries Rhett, yet he never truly masters her.

I’ve always thought a good lashing with a buggy whip would benefit you immensely.

They separate, their daughter dies, Melanie dies and Ashley make plain he never loved Scarlet. Scarlet tries to win back Rhett but…

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

The film should have ended here but in fact closes on an optimistic note. Scarlet returns to Tara.

I’ll go home, and I’ll think of some way to get him back! After all, tomorrow is another day!

So, in a sunset glow as corny as any you’ll ever see in any movie, we goodbye to the outrageous Scarlet O’Hara. Selznick has delivered a masterpiece of melodrama on an epic scale and justified his enormous budget. No film before or since has put so many bums on so many seats in so many cinemas. Best Picture 1939? You bet.

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