"I coulda been a contender"
Recently Turner Classic Movies aired a month of Oscars; films notable for their
recognition by the Academy in one category or another.
The 1953 film On the Waterfront was shown: once and at 6AM on a Saturday
morning. Not that I am complaining. I have owned the DVD for years and have
gotten my money's worth!
I know that Elia Kazan, the director, is not one of Hollywood's favorite sons.
He, after all, "named names" to the House Committee for Un-American activities.
I know the film is dated and gritty in its on location (in Hoboken) black and
whiteness; that at times it's downright corny.
I also know people who have never seen this film, yet they can quote it using
the above line from the cab scene. That's how much of an icon it is.
On the DVD there are special features that include remarks that you can listen
to during the film (commentary) by such luminaries as James Lipton. The other
names escape me.
They, like the people that can quote; "I coulda been a contender", think that
the cab scene is the whole movie. You would think that Eva Marie Saint wasn't
even nominated much less that she won an Oscar in her first film role.
The hero worship that these nincompoops shower on Marlon Brando is nauseating.
They grudgingly honor Rod Steiger too who also was in THE scene, though you get
the feeling his performance must have been enhanced by the warm glow of Brando's
Do not get me wrong. I think if Brando had never made another movie he'd still
be one of the greats for this one film. It's just the experts drooling in
adoration that slays me.
Not only is Eva barely mentioned in the commentary, it takes these geniuses all
the way to the final scene before they mention, as an aside, the film score.
That score was nominated by the Academy but didn't win.
My opinion is that it is one of the greatest in all cinematic history. Its
"suite" is regularly performed by orchestras around the world. How many other
film scores are honored in this manner?
It was written by an artist who in some circles is recognized as one of the
pre-eminent composers of the Twentieth Century: Leonard Bernstein.
Another thing missed by these "experts" is the true theme of the film. It is
only a drama about corruption on the docks on the surface.
It is a theme that is not often presented but when it is, it is immensely
popular with movie-goers.
In the Nineties a smallish film was released called; As Good As It Gets.
Everyone was surprised how well it did at the box office. They don't understand
what people like.
How can I compare this comic dauble to the great Crime drama in question?
Both films are about the redemptive power of love.
When Jack Nicholson's character says to Helen Hunt's; "You make me want to be a
better man" it turned that film into a compelling drama with humor, not just a
vehicle for quirky characters.
Marlon Brando's character Terry Malloy, of course, has much harder choices
to make but his love for Edie Doyle (Eva) compels him to risk his life to do the
right thing and his action become infectious.
Charlie the Gent (Steiger) sacrifices his life for the love of his younger
The burning love between a young man and woman and the filial love of brothers
is power enough to bring the mob to its knees.
Why don't film makers make more use of stories like these?
The old fashioned Random Harvest type romances may be pass? in our time where 12
year olds are tongue kissing and using terms like "suck" and "****" on the
Disney Channel; when to be a really successful recording star you must prance
half naked around the stage periodically stroking your genitals, but the fact
that As Good As It Gets touched a chord in people gives me renewed hope that
perhaps all innocence is not yet lost.
The theme that love makes us better people, if used more, could relieve us a bit
from the garbage heap of pop culture.
Oh yes, On the Waterfront is my all time favorite film drama...did I mention