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On The Waterfront

On The Waterfront 💦   

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  1. 1. Should On the Waterfront be on the List?

    • It’s a contender!
      10
    • It’s nothin’ but a bum!
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  • Poll closed on 09/20/19 at 07:00 AM

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Paul & Amy fly the coop to 1954's Marlon Brando crime drama On The Waterfront! They ask what the film would have been like with Frank Sinatra in the lead, explore the history of "the Method," and wonder how the ending would change if this were made today. Plus: Paul revisits your thoughts on Lawrence Of Arabia.

For North By Northwest week, what is your favorite Hitchcock film? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

This episode is brought to you by A Life Lived podcast and Sonos (www.sonos.com).

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Amy's reach candidates for an On the Waterfront reference.

 

 

I couldn't come up with a direct one either.

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As I mentioned on Letterboxd, I'm still a bit confused about the ending, though I think that it makes more emotional sense as representing Kazan's political issues.  I had known that Kazan saw the film that way, and even on this rewatch I found that read a bit of a stretch, but I think the key is that Kazan didn't actually hate communism.  He just hated communists, both in the way the party operated in pre-WWII America and in the way Stalin ran the USSR.  So Friendly is Stalin here, ruling with corruption over an organization that's supposed to promote the labor class.  And part of me does think that this is what Kazan thought (or made himself believe) he was testifying against, as if outing the political leanings of eight of his former friends would somehow bring down Stalin.  And then I see the ending as being a sort of bullshit Hollywood ending, as Amy and Paul talked about, but it is so because it's Kazan's wish fulfillment.  He wishes that his actions could take down dictators, and that the people who felt betrayed by his testimony would change their minds and see that his actions were for the greater good. 

This interpretation fits with the film, but it also paints Kazan as not only delusional, but a little dumb as well, which he does not seem to be.  The reality seems to be that Kazan acted in his own self-interest out of self-preservation, and the hardest thing for me to grapple with is that he doesn't seem to feel guilty at all over that.  And sure, if he had refused to testify to HUAC, it is unlikely that his taking a stand would have galvanized people to end HUAC.  Most likely, if he had refused to testify, he'd have been blacklisted too and wouldn't have gotten to make things like On the WaterfrontEast of Eden, or A Face in the Crowd.  And sure, his testimony probably didn't directly affect anyone else's lives, since the eight people he named were already known to HUAC anyway.  But it bugs me that he seemed to show no remorse for it, and saw himself as the victim instead.  He didn't stand up to a bully, like Terry Malloy did.  He capitulated to the bully.

So overall, my feelings on Kazan are that I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.  I love his work, including this film, which is my favorite of the ones I've seen.  And in the realm of directors who have done shitty things, he's far from the shittiest.  But it's disappointing that someone whose films show so much empathy and humanity seemed uninterested in empathizing with those who did stand up to the bully of HUAC, only to be silenced.

This was another great episode of the podcast, and despite my misgivings about Kazan, this is a great film.  I wouldn't put it in my top 10, but I have no hesitation about voting yes for it.

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Paul is confused why Friendly's goons didn't just kill Terry at the end, but this is explicitly addressed by Friendly himself when a goon suggests it: Terry just testified against him and Friendly is now facing serious charges, including a murder that Terry accused him of being behind. Killing Terry at that point would practically be an admission of guilt along with another murder charge, making it a certainty that Friendly would be executed. Friendly is probably somewhat overly-optimistic about his ability to beat the charges and make a comeback, as his boss is leaving him out to dry and his lawyer was Terry's brother Charlie, whom he just had killed for trying to protect Terry. The time to kill Terry was earlier in the alley outside his building, but Terry got away and now it's too late.

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I found this to be a surprisingly innovative piece of cinema. It reminded me of The Wire haha. I don't know if knowing all the history about Kazan and communism is necessary though, but I guess it does clarify some things.

A few of our earlier movies, I lamented when some of them didn't have a mood or a good sense of location, and this has it in spades. When a movie does that well, I'm definitely going to be all in on it, and that's what happened here. I thought it was all very impressive.

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something about Lee J Cobb's fantastic pointing always makes me smile no matter which film he's starring in deleteme.thumb.jpg.eeb83a9c974932103278a1ebf96d9985.jpg

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16 hours ago, bleary said:

if he had refused to testify to HUAC, it is unlikely that his taking a stand would have galvanized people to end HUAC.  Most likely, if he had refused to testify, he'd have been blacklisted too and wouldn't have gotten to make things

No one can be sure, but it's likely that Kazan could have continued working, albeit in the theatre as there was no blacklist. He was an award winning theatrical director who "just" entered Hollywood six or seven years prior to HUAC, after all. And that's the route taken by many of his friends in the Group Theatre who faced similar moral dilemmas, notably Arthur Miller.  It's difficult for me to parse this film from the context of its authors (the screenwriter Shulburg also named names in front of HUAC) I came to know and watch this film when learning (and later teaching, and later acting in, and directing) The Crucible, in which John Proctor makes a very different decision than Terry Malloy. 

Also, yeah... I really don't like the Edie character.   

Hmm. Mental note: Idea for a short scene 2-woman play, featuring Edie and Elizabeth Proctor meeting for the first time for some reason. 

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15 hours ago, FictionIsntReal said:

confused why Friendly's goons didn't just kill Terry at the end,

But before that point they certainly could. I mean, they *tried* but they sent the brother to do it. And speaking of that, I'm not sure why it would be necessary to kill Charlie outright, and not, you know, just "lean on 'im" a little instead. But hey, I guess that's why I'm not a 50s gangster. 

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On the question of this being an apologia for Kazan's actions during the blacklist era: certainly the ending seems that way, but when considering the movie as a whole, you also have to take into account how it begins, where Terry gets a friend killed as a result of ratting him out. Given that, I can see more nuance in the movie: it all depends on who you are ratting out to, and in Kazan's time, it might have been hard to tell who were the good guys and who weren't. For me this helps with any discomfort I might feel about the film's relationship to HUAC; it is thoughtful about the issue, not just a polemic.

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3 hours ago, DannytheWall said:

But before that point they certainly could. I mean, they *tried* but they sent the brother to do it. And speaking of that, I'm not sure why it would be necessary to kill Charlie outright, and not, you know, just "lean on 'im" a little instead. But hey, I guess that's why I'm not a 50s gangster. 

Technically they sent the brother to "talk some sense into him." i.e. the carrot of a cushy job. I think the gun meant more to make sure Terry didn't get away and could kept hostage until wherever that address they were going to - presumably there would be people there who would have done the literal knocking off.

And the reason (given in the movie) would be, Friendly wasn't accused of murdering the brother beforehand.

Being accused of murder is more serious than corruption. Your accuser getting hit by a car is going to look a lot more suspicious.

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2 hours ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

On the question of this being an apologia for Kazan's actions during the blacklist era: certainly the ending seems that way, but when considering the movie as a whole, you also have to take into account how it begins, where Terry gets a friend killed as a result of ratting him out. Given that, I can see more nuance in the movie: it all depends on who you are ratting out to, and in Kazan's time, it might have been hard to tell who were the good guys and who weren't. For me this helps with any discomfort I might feel about the film's relationship to HUAC; it is thoughtful about the issue, not just a polemic.

Well, I wasn't familiar with the backstory, so I might have this wrong, but didn't Any say Kazan was a member of the American communist party? That initial knock-off would be Kazan becoming disillusioned with the communists (which did happen to a lot of American communists when Stalin and Hitler struck an alliance - though how much of that was putely disillusionment was more with Russia and how much was domino effect of becoming disillusioned with the ideology of the movement, I can't remember what I heard the details were).

I wouldn't be surprised if Kazan doesn't feel remorse because, well, "communists? Fuck those guys." Which wouldn't become irrelevant for another 30+ years.

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7 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Technically they sent the brother to "talk some sense into him." i.e. the carrot of a cushy job. I think the gun meant more to make sure Terry didn't get away and could kept hostage until wherever that address they were going to - presumably there would be people there who would have done the literal knocking off.

 And the reason (given in the movie) would be, Friendly wasn't accused of murdering the brother beforehand.

Being accused of murder is more serious than corruption. Your accuser getting hit by a car is going to look a lot more suspicious.

But that means people with the gun were waiting to knock off Terry and he just got out of the car earlier, then just catch up with him later 'round the corner or something. They were already going to kill him, and now they just have to figure out a different location. Instead they kill Charlie and just yell out Terry's name. I know in my head the reasons the movie gives, but it always seemed a weak point of the plot to me. Like, OF COURSE killing Charlie would be the turning point and cause Terry to finally step up. Like when the Emperor just *had* to say that last line to Luke Skywalker about Luke's anger, making Luke finally stop being angry. It always seems more narratively *convenient* than logical to me.   

I just now realized the whole reluctant-to-actually-do-anything-hero trope parallel to Hamlet. Not sure if this makes the film better or Kazan even more pretentious. 

6 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Well, I wasn't familiar with the backstory, so I might have this wrong, but didn't Any say Kazan was a member of the American communist party?

Yes, Kazan and many of his college friends and members of the Group Theatre were members of the Communist Party in the 20s/30s,(?) but it was a far cry from the Stalinst and Mao Tse Dongist kind of Communism that arose after WWII. Most Americans who grew out of the Depression saw the abstract ideals of Marxism as very appealing, after all, and HUAC was not about to make that distinction when there was better policitcal opportunity.

Kazan likely rationalized that they already had his name, and they already had the names of the people he gave them. But the real fallout  wasn't in the names themselves, it was the legitamacy it gave to McCarthyism and HUAC in general. They got any numbers of feathers in their cap by making Hollywood capitulate. 

I tried to think of an equivalency in our own times, and it might be around gun control. Perhaps in the way someone in their youth would have been a card-carrying member of the NRA, but in recent years deciding to give up their membership, after marrying, having a family and career, etc. Now add to that a hypothetical world where you'd have to testify and risk losing your livelihood because of that card you held in your college days. It's easy in hindsight or hypotheticals to condemn Kazan, and I appreciate the enormity of the decision, but I am like others here, disappointed in him.   

 

 

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There is a really good documentary from PBS American Masters featuring Kazan, Arthur Miller, and the blacklist.  

Haven't seen it in years but it stuck with me. Guess what I found on YouTube! 

 

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Rather than apologizing afterwards to headphones listeners, maybe don't play a clip of a prolonged loud sound like that. Or please bring the volume down for clips like that.

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A little late with a bump but I've been revisiting Lloyd Cole and the Commotions because of the line from "Rattlesnakes" where he sings "She looks like Eva Marie Saint, in On the Waterfront". 

Aside from all the other good things I've been enjoying about the podcast, this was just a side-benefit I thought I'd share (Lost Weekend and My Bag are at the top of my go-to tunes list from them too).

 

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