On the Waterfront

AFI Rank: #8
Year Released: 1954
Director: Elia Kazan
Actors: Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando's famous "I could've been a contender" line is said with bittersweet sadness to his brother, who let Brandon fail in order to make money with the mob. Marlon is an out of work boxer whose involvement with the mob comes to a halt after he falls in love with a woman whose brother he helped to kill. It showed a glimpse of life in the harsh New Jersey docks under corrupt Mob union rule.

Lisa Says:
This was the first AFI movie we saw en masse as a family and we loved it! Many generations of eyeballs were glued to the black and white images on the screen, following Brando as he went from a lowly mob thug to someone who stood up for what was right. The acting is phenomenal, and the environment is very down-to-earth and gritty. You really do feel that these people struggle to survive on the docks, to do what is right in a world full of greed and backstabbing.

While famous for Marlon Brando's famous line of "I coulda been a contender!" there are actually many lines of dialogue in here that stand out. The cinematography, the scenery, the faces of the men and women as they go about their lives, it really draws you in to the tough life they led. This definitely deserves to be in the top 10 of all films and is a great film to watch with friends and discuss afterwards.

As an aside, we were all intrigued by the metal tokens that the dock workers held in their hands as they waited on the docks, and it was amazing that in a room of 10 people of all ages, we didn't have any "real" knowledge of what was going on. We could of course make some educated guesses! But here is what I found.

As far back as the 1800s, dock workers were given metal tokens saying they were "signed up properly" to be able to work on the dock. This was to keep riff-raff and untrustworthy thieves off the docks, as well as making some money for the local guild or union. The workers would sign up beforehand and be given these metal circles, that were stamped with the local sign and in essence said "this man is a valid worker to choose".

Then each day as the ships came in, a certain number of gangs would be needed to haul the boxes. This could be only 10 men on a quiet day, or 200 men on a busy day. So each morning, all of the men who wanted to work would show up on the docks. The bosses would call out or list on a board what the day's requirements were. Then they would look out over the group and choose whoever seemed best suited. Each man would have to show his metal token as he went in to work, to prove he was in fact currently paid up and eligible.

In On the Waterfront, certain men were also giving coded winks and nods. These would be those men closest with the mob - the ones who had friends and who should be chosen first.

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