On the Waterfront
The performance that turned Marlon Brando into Marlon fucking Brando, method-acting superhero, still stings after all these years, if only because itís the saga of a betraying failure trying to do something right--perhaps for the very first time. Brando inhabits the former fighter-turned-unlikely longshoreman gangbuster Terry Malloy like a flickering intelligence and consciousness struggling to molt out of its linebacker frame, darting eyes moving from intimidation to tenderness before Terry even knows what heís feeling. Of course, Brandoís path from fingering a guy to mobbed-up union muscles to whistle-blower is aided by Waterfrontís impossibly on-point production: Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the porcelain-skin angel Terry falls for and part of the reason he tries to wiggle out from under the influence of his brother Charley (Rod Steiger maximizing his canny side-of-beef menace), the conniving strategist to corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb and his old bruise of a mug); the obstinate priest (perennial underdog Karl Malden) determined to get the longshoremen to stand up; the damp streets and docks of its Hoboken, N.J., setting--and those two HUAC friendlies, Budd Schulberg, whose screenplay bristles with heart, muscle, and brains, and Elia Kazanís crisp direction. Fifty years havenít polished off the McCarthy testimonial tarnish from Schulberg and Kazan, but Waterfront--the first picture both made after naming names--remains tough enough to withstand the scrutiny of revisionist criticism.