On the Waterfront

Johnny Friendly

Characters Johnny Friendly

Once Johnny Friendly has power, he has to maintain it at all costs, and he acts out whenever someone or something challenges that power. His position as the leader of the Longshoreman Local Union requires daily muscle-flexing. In a passionate speech he gives at the bar the first time we meet him, Friendly describes his past life. Clawing for scraps and fighting to get by on the streets since his youth, an organization like the union became his only option for self-preservation. Money and power are his motivations now. When a man is on his side, as Terry is in the beginning of the film, Johnny Friendly is all smiles, quick to give out hugs, pats on the back, and extra $50 bills. When a man’s goals diverge from his, however, that man instantly becomes an enemy. Since Johnny Friendly abides by the same code throughout the film, his character traits change very little, but his effect on other characters—and on the viewers—changes dramatically. Initially, Friendly comes across as powerful, and his booming speeches command respect. His disseminations of beatings become cautionary tales. However, after Terry Malloy speaks out to the Waterfront Crime Commission and effectively strips Friendly of all his power, Friendly becomes pitiable. He is nothing more than a puppet with a few of his strings cut. He flails comically, he roars ineffectively, and none of his orders stick.