full title On the Waterfront

director  Elia Kazan

leading actors/actresses  Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb

supporting actors/actresses  Pat Henning, John Hamilton, James Westerfield, Leif Erickson

type of work  Motion Picture

genre  Gritty gangster film; authentic social reality film

language  English

time and place produced 1954; Hoboken, New Jersey, and New York City


 · 1955 Academy Awards:
 ·  Winner, Best Picture
 ·  Winner, Best Director (Elia Kazan)
 ·  Winner, Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (Budd Schulberg)
 ·  Winner, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando)
 ·  Winner, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eva Marie Saint)
 ·  Winner, Best Cinematography, Black and White (Boris Kaufman)
 ·  Winner, Best Film Editing (Gene Milford)
 ·  Winner, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Black and White (Richard Day)
 ·  Nominated, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Lee J. Cobb)
 ·  Nominated, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Karl Malden)
 ·  Nominated, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Rod Steiger)
 ·  Nominated, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Leonard Bernstein)
 · 1955 Golden Globes:
 ·  Winner, Best Motion Picture, Drama
 ·  Winner, Best Director (Elia Kazan)
 ·  Winner, Best Motion Picture Actor, Drama (Marlon Brando)
 ·  Winner, Best Cinematography, Black and White (Boris Kaufman)
 · 1954 New York Film Critics Circle:
 ·  Winner, Best Film
 ·  Winner, Best Director (Elia Kazan)
 ·  Winner, Best Actor (Marlon Brando)
 · 1954 National Board of Review:
 ·  Winner, Best Picture
 · 1955 Directors Guild of America:
 ·  Winner, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (Elia Kazan)
 ·  Plaque, Assistant Director (Charles H. Maguire)
 · 1955 Writers Guild of America:
 ·  Winner, Best Written America Drama, Screen (Budd Schulberg)
 · 1954 Venice Film Festival:
 ·  Winner, Italian Film Critics Award (Elia Kazan)
 ·  Winner, Silver Lion (Elia Kazan)
 ·  Nominated, Golden Lion (Elia Kazan)
 · 1955 BAFTA Awards (British Film and TV):
 ·  Winner, Best Foreign Actor (Marlon Brando)
 ·  Nominated, Best Film from Any Source
 ·  Nominated, Most Promising Newcomer (Eva Marie Saint)
 · 1955 Bodil Awards (Denmark):
 ·  Winner, Best American Film (Elia Kazan, director)
 · 1989 National Film Preservation Board:
 ·  Registered, National Film Registry

date of release  July 1954

producer  Sam Spiegel

setting (time) 1950s

setting (place)  Hoboken, New Jersey

protagonist  Terry Malloy

major conflict  Terry Malloy must decide whether to inform the Waterfront Crime Commission about the corrupt leadership of the Longshoreman’s Union, which would risk his employment and his life, or to stay silent, which would poison his conscience and have untold effects on his life.

rising action  As Terry Malloy struggles with his decision, his blossoming relationship with Edie Doyle, the passionate support of Father Barry, and the revealing taxicab conversation with his brother Charlie all push him toward realizing that he has only one choice for his own conscience.

climax  When Johnny Friendly’s gang murders his brother Charlie, Terry realizes the inescapable cycle of union corruption and vows to make the union pay whatever the cost, now that he’s felt the pain personally.

falling action  Though in his rage Terry wants to murder all the goons he can find, Father Barry convinces him to rise above their level and testify in court to the Waterfront Crime Commission the next day, which he does. He then goes down to the docks to confront Friendly.

themes  Informing as the correct moral choice; the transforming power of faith; power corrupts

motifs  The rooftop as retreat from the world; Crucifixion dialogue; “D & D”: Deaf and Dumb

symbols  Hudson River; pigeons; hooks; gloves


 ·  Joey Doyle sticks his head out of his apartment window to answer Terry Malloy’s call from the street, and that answer brings his death. Much later, Malloy finds himself in the same position, sticking his head out of Edie’s window to answer a dark call from the street, which leads to the discovery of his brother’s corpse.
 ·  Kayo Dugan wishes daily that the stevedores could unload crates of crisp Irish whiskey instead of bananas, which they unload every day. The day a ship finally arrives with a cargo of Irish whiskey is the day the gang murders Dugan on the job—by dropping a crate of whiskey on his head.
 · After Joey Doyle’s murder, Pops Doyle gives Joey’s jacket to Dugan, suggesting that perhaps now Dugan has a mark on him. After Dugan’s murder, the jacket is given back to Edie. On the final scene at the docks, Malloy grabs Joey’s jacket and wears it in front of all.