What would you do when faced with a decision of striving for good or settling into evil? In On the Waterfront Terry Malloy must face up to his crime-riddled life and make a choice for what’s best according to the people he cares about. Terry is an ex-boxer living on the coattails of his former popularity and the ease in which it brought him recognition in the underworld of the New York City docking industry. The waterfront jobs are controlled by a group of men making the rules among the ranks of destitute looking for jobs unloading ships that come in. It has gotten to the point where the bosses control every aspect of their lives and if anyone talks, they are soon found dead. After the death of a popular young man named Joey, his sister Edie takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of the corruption and expose the truth of what’s going on. She develops a relationship with Terry and hopes that he will help bring the situation to light with her. Terry, however, knows better than to speak out of turn among the ranks and is reluctant to help, no matter what his feelings are for the girl. Things change when his older brother is found dead. Now Terry is out to get even. A local priest convinces him not to turn to crime himself so he takes the honest way out and goes to the authorities. He might have turned against the bosses, but his stand made it possible for all the workers to finally get the work they’ve needed for so long.
This film comes down to a battle between good and bad born in everyone. The gauge is different in each person and situations often indicate how far you will let the bad overcome what’s right in effort to maintain a livable life. Marlon Brando’s character is struggling the whole film with these decisions. This is very apparent in his strained performance that is masked with a casual indifference born from supposed years of acceptance. Brando makes his character portrayal effortless with the brushed aside sweeps of dialogue and honest approach to each situation that befalls him. The other characters around are at a constant state of alert due to the heavy implications being taken or given to each other. The dangerous world is exposed in all it’s glory on screen through decisive dialogue and action tinged with the filthy layout of the docks and streets encompassing the struggling working class. The audience is hoping the exposure of wrongdoing will come in the end, but it seems undecided until the very last confrontation. There’s a happy ending, but it’s tinged with sadness based on how the events that took place shaped the dark victory befallen this close family of likeminded individuals. What we learn is doing the right thing more often that not comes at a price.