by Jack Nilan            EMail :

On the Waterfront (1954)

Movie Grade A+

McCarthyism Connection Grade A+

McCarthyism Connection
Director Elia Kazan appeared as a cooperative witness before HUAC, and the film can be interpreted as a justification for his actions. In the movie Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) decides he must inform on his former friends in a corrupt waterfront union.

crime / drama

Terry Malone, an ex-prize fighter and current longshoreman decides to take a stand against the corrupt union bosses.

Jack   A+
Roger Ebert   Great Movie
IMDB    8.3

   If there had never been a Senator Joe McCarthy On the Waterfont would still be a tremendous movie.

   "You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Lets face it .... It was you, Charly." Just that taxi scene alone makes the movie well worth watching.

   "On the Waterfront'' was, among other things, Kazan's justification for his decision to testify before the HUAC. In the film, when a union boss shouts, `You ratted on us, Terry,' the Brando character shouts back: `I'm standing over here now. I was rattin' on myself all those years. I didn't even know it.' That reflects what some feel was Kazan's belief that communism was an evil that temporarily seduced him, and had to be opposed." (Roger Ebert)

   In 1952 Kazan was summoned before HUAC. Some critics felt that Kazan decided that his career was more important than anything and he identified 17 people he had worked with in the theater. All of these names were already known to the FBI and HUAC. Kazan took out a full-page ad in the NY Times justifying himself. From that point on, he became a pariah among the Hollywood and Broadway left. At a 1999 press conference, on the eve of Kazan's acceptance of a lifetime achievement Oscar, Norma Barzman said, "He ruined and destroyed their careers, their families, their lives."

   On the Waterfont is by any standard a great movie, but the McCarthyism theme, with its defense of "naming names", makes it unique and fascinating.