Played by Marlon Brando
The protagonist of the film. A former prizefighter, Terry is physically strong but shuffles through most of the film with his hands in his pockets and his collar turned up. Inside, he’s tender and conflicted, as is evident from his anxious physical behaviors and ineloquent speech. He communicates through long silences and seething outbursts.
Played by Eva Marie Saint
The Catholic teacher-in-training who falls for Terry Malloy. Not familiar with the lifestyle on the waterfront, she exhibits bravery by choosing to stick around through a dangerous time. An almost angelic gentle soul who often rescues stray animals, she sees the good in Terry that nobody else sees. She walks cautiously and looks around curiously. In many ways, her utter innocence represents the complete opposite of Terry’s street smarts.
Read an in-depth analysis of Edie Doyle.
Played by Karl Malden
The Catholic priest whose parish consists of the longshoremen. Like Edie, Father Barry has little understanding of what happens daily on the docks. But soon he puts on his heavy overcoat, hat, and white collar, and finds the strength of his own convictions in applied practice at the docks, rather than in the safety of the church.
Played by Lee J. Cobb
The vocal and corrupt leader of the Longshoreman’s Union. A tough criminal who had to claw his way to the top, Friendly cannot be described as purely evil. He demonstrates affection for Terry and Charlie, but he operates by a different set of rules. He’s “friendly” to the men as long as they’re on his side. If they’re not, they’re in big trouble. He almost always has a cigar.
Played by Rod Steiger
Johnny Friendly’s educated right-hand man and Terry’s brother. Charlie walks around in an expensive camel-hair coat that sparks derision from the longshoremen. His tense eyes betray tremendous anxiety beneath his calm, round face. Though he’s a willing and calculating criminal, he’s never able to hide his deep love for his brother.
Played by Pat Henning
A short, strong longshoreman who testifies to the Waterfront Crime Commission and is murdered on the job for it. Dugan’s sarcasm and ability to elucidate the longshoremen’s frustration single him out quickly as a representative for the longshoremen.
Played by John Hamilton
The elderly stevedore father of the murdered Joey Doyle. After four decades on the docks, his face is grizzled and has patches of a white beard. He maintains a fierce, lock-jawed façade. His only concern for the duration of the film is the well-being of his daughter, Edie.
Played by James Westerfield
The pier boss who dispatches the work tabs each morning. One of the more vocal members of Johnny Friendly’s gang, Big Mac maintains a stoic facade while insulting Terry and Charlie and remains steadfastly loyal to Johnny Friendly.
Played by Leif Erickson
A Waterfront Crime Commission officer. Glover fulfills his official duties in a by-the-books, workmanlike fashion, but his tall presence also radiates sensitivity. His gentle questioning of Terry on the rooftops proves his understanding of Terry’s dilemma.
Played by Don Blackman
An African-American longshoreman. His quiet, reflective demeanor radiates in his silent face. Good friends with Dugan, Luke respectfully returns Joey’s jacket to Edie after Dugan’s death.
Played by Arthur Keegan
The kid who idolizes Terry and hangs out in the pigeon coops. His attachment to Terry on the rooftops reflects Terry’s near-childlike innocence when daydreaming or tending the pigeons.
Played by former boxer Tami Mauriello
One of Johnny Friendly’s goons. Tullio’s round, mask-like face is cold and inexpressive.
Played by former boxer Tony Galento
One of Johnny Friendly’s goons. Truck harasses Father Barry during his speech over Dugan’s body by throwing bananas at him . . . until Terry flattens him with an uppercut and a hook.
Played by former boxer Abe Simon
One of Johnny Friendly’s goons. An enormous physical presence with an iron jaw and deep voice, Barney almost resembles a giant.
Played by John Heldabrand
A local homeless man. Unshaven, with a tan overcoat, Mutt appears sympathetic, intelligent, and down on his luck. Well-known around the waterfront, he seems to know exactly what goes on despite his desperate straits.
Played by Barry Macollum
Nicknamed “J.P. Morgan.” A tight-faced stereotype, Johnny’s Banker dresses finely in a wardrobe that includes sharp hats. Physically, he resembles a weasel in his thin wiliness.
Played by Marty Balsam
Glover’s assistant from the Waterfront Crime Commission. Shorter and less vocal than Glover, Gilette exists primarily as a sarcastic sidekick to his boss.
Played by Elia Kazan
A young longshoreman murdered for his testimony to the Waterfront Crime Commission. Joey’s shadowed head from his apartment window is seen only in long shot, then his body falls from the roof to the ground. His death becomes the ghostly presence that overrides the film, as well as the spark that kick-starts all subsequent events.
Played by an uncredited actor
The corrupt leader who directs Johnny Friendly from afar. Mr. Upstairs’s face is never shown, and we see only the plush estate (with television set and butler) where he lives.
Played by Thomas Handley
Joey Doyle’s best friend in the neighborhood. Jimmy’s refusal to speak out even after his best friend’s death illustrates the depth of the longshoremen’s silence.