Tags: Elia Kazan, Leonard Bernstein, Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger
There are certain sentences that are place markers for whole movies and if they are really famous, like “we’ll always have Paris,” “coffee is for closers,” “you talkin’ to me?” and the greatest of all, “I could have been a contender”, they evoke parallel worlds of film and real life.
This kind of shorthand, taken from what is usually a great scene, can lead us to forget the scene itself.
Here is the scene from On the Waterfront.
Everything is right in front of us: Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, the unseen driver, the threat of Lee J. Cobb, Leonard Bernstein’s music pulsing, and the hand of the great director, Elia Kazan. Two brothers, love and disappointment, fear and fortitude, 437 River Street and pulling over, Brando’s hand patting Steiger’s shoulder.
These days we are not used to hearing about longshoremen and stevedoring but for me they mean more to me now than they did when I first saw On the Waterfront as a young boy on an Altar Boy outing. My father worked for many years, in what we would now call the IT department for John McGrath, a long-gone stevedoring outfit, and I’ve had time to think about what it was like back then, before the romance of the Godfather put a more romantic face on fear and manipulation.