One of the best things about the month of February is Turner Classic Movie’s Oscar Month, where you can watch some of the greatest movies of all time back-to-back-to-back. If you have a few free hours, you can watch movies that are so famous they are cliched, and gain a new appreciation for them. One such movie played tonight in On the Waterfront.
Winner of eight Academy Awards, the movie may be best known for Marlon Brando’s “I coulda been a contender” speech in a cab with beautiful Venetian blinds. However, this movie is incredibly rich with small touches that move it from great movie to the pantheon of excellence. Consider a few of the smaller touches that go unnoticed on a first pass:
- When Terry Malloy finally admits to Father Barry that he set-up Jimmy for the fall, notice how the scene is filmed. The scenes leading up to the key moment are shot at eye level as is normal for most movies. However, at the moment he makes his “confession”, the camera angle is on a downward angle, as if there is someone looking over their shoulder or spying on this intimate scene.
- Karl Malden, who deserved an Oscar for this and many performances, has an agonizing performance as a priest slowly becoming convinced that his calling, his role is to serve these longshoremen terrorized by their union. After being criticized by Edie for failing to do anything about her brother’s murder, Fr. Barry leaps into the fray like a convert. The church meeting is sad in the way that he naively tries to inspire the men, but it is only in the crate tragedy in the ship that he truly finds his footing in the movement.
- When you re-watch the movie, you realize how small the set is and how few pieces they use. The famous cab scene has, as mentioned, Venetian blinds because the crew needed something to use as a window for the cab. Someone grabbed some blinds and using lights and sounds, they created a cab ride. In many ways, the shooting felt like a show stage.