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January 29, 2014

Susan Marg

60 Years Ago: Down by the Docks

Oil on canvas 1934 by Pino Janni. Photo by: cliff1066.

Oil on canvas 1934 by Pino Janni. Photo by: cliff1066.

My husband and I watched On the Waterfront from 1954 the other night.  What a movie! Based on a series of articles, it’s about corruption in the longshoremen’s union in New York, although it was shot in Hoboken, Frank Sinatra’s hometown.

Everyone knows that its star Marlon Brando won his first Best Actor Oscar for his role as Terry Molloy.  When he told his brother, “I coulda been a contender,” it was heartbreaking. He had been nominated three times before: in 1951 for his performance as Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire; in 1952 for Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata; and in 1953 for Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.  The later was in the same year that Brando played the iconic rebel biker Johnny Strabler in The Wild One.

Look at who else was in the cast.  Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  Eva Marie Saint, in her debut film role, won for Best Supporting Actress. Unaccredited actors included Fred Gwynne, Martin Balsam, and Pat Hingle.

Behind the scenes, Elia Kazan directed and Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay.  They earned Oscars, too.  All told, On the Waterfront had twelve Oscar nominations, including one for Leonard Bernstein for Best Score.

Yep, twelve, and On the Waterfront won in eight categories.

In 1981 Reds, which, coincidentally, was also about unions, albeit it in the 1910s leading up to the Russian revolution, repeated the feat, earning twelve nominations which included recognition for its star, director, and screenwriter, Warren Beatty, as well as Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Maureen Stapleton, other members of the cast.  It won in three categories, losing to Chariots of Fire for Best Picture.

All of this brings us to the current Oscar season.  Gravity and American Hustle, both of which I saw and thought were terrific, each received ten nominations, and Twelve Years a Slave received nine.  Impressive numbers to be sure, but not record-breaking.

Is it too early to say that they don’t make movies like they used to? Or, were there so many good movies this year that will all be around for a long time to come?

Before you answer those questions, On the Waterfront was shot for just under a million dollars and grossed ten times its production costs in its initial release.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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