On the Waterfront Criterion Collection Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden
  • Director: Elia Kazan
  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: February 19, 2013
  • Run Time: 108 minutes



                Most give John Cassavetes credit for the beginning of independent cinema in America, but it was not unheard of evening the days of strictest studio control for a film to be produced independently. It was rare, but happened and Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront was one of these exceptions. Kazan’s credibility as a filmmaker at the time gave him the freedom to take risks that others may have been unable to see through. But On the Waterfront is more than just an excellently made film with some of the best film acting ever captured onscreen; there is also a historical significance which makes the film that much more compellingly complex.


                This 1954 shipyard drama tells the story of boxer-turned-longshoreman Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), a man who must make a difficult moral decision when forced to choose between protecting a mob-connected union boss (Lee J. Cobb) and innocent victims getting hurt by the ruthless thugs. The decision is complicated further because of Terry’s brother, Charlie (Rod Steiger), who is the right hand-man to the brutal union leader, and the guilt Terry feels for his own involvement. In the opening of the film, Terry helps to lure a man into the open, for union thugs to attack and kill. When Terry develops a relationship with the man’s grieving sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), it is further reason for him to feel guilt for his involvement and motivation to sacrifice for the sake of justice.


                The controversy surrounding this film at the time has more to do with what was happening in the country than what happens in the film. At the time there were trials and even a committee for un-American activity. Red scares were on the rise and a fear of communism would eventually blacklist many in Hollywood from ever working again. Kazan was one of the few who made public that he was testifying and giving names of colleagues with suspected communist involvement. This decision was carried with Kazan for the rest of his life, and did not make him the most popular man. It is easy to see the correlation between justifying a thug’s decision to testify against a corrupt union leader and a filmmaker’s decision to give the names of communist colleagues. Whether or not the comparison is just or fair is somewhat irrelevant, though certainly worth examining and discussing. On the Waterfront will remain a classic, not just because of the historical significance or the quality of the film itself, but because of the way both come together to form a piece of art. You may not be able to hang it in a museum, but it has the same purpose.


                The Blu-ray release comes with a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, as well as an alternate 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track. There is also a second disc which contains two alternate aspect ratio presentations of the film, in both 1.85:1 (widescreen) and 1.33:1 (full screen). Disc one has the film in 1.66:1. The first disc also comes with an optional audio commentary with authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young, and a conversation about the film with critic Kent Jones and Martin Scorsese. There are many additional special features, including many new interviews and an unbelievable wealth of making-of documentaries. The package also includes a 40-some page booklet insert with essays, interviews and old newspaper articles which give even more real-life significance to the film.  

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