full title On the Waterfront
director Elia Kazan
leading actors/actresses Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb
supporting actors/actresses Pat Henning, John Hamilton, James Westerfield, Leif Erickson
type of work Motion Picture
genre Gritty gangster film; authentic social reality film
time and place produced 1954; Hoboken, New Jersey, and New York City
date of release July 1954
producer Sam Spiegel
setting (time) 1950s
setting (place) Hoboken, New Jersey
protagonist Terry Malloy
major conflict Terry Malloy must decide whether to inform the Waterfront Crime Commission about the corrupt leadership of the Longshoreman’s Union, which would risk his employment and his life, or to stay silent, which would poison his conscience and have untold effects on his life.
rising action As Terry Malloy struggles with his decision, his blossoming relationship with Edie Doyle, the passionate support of Father Barry, and the revealing taxicab conversation with his brother Charlie all push him toward realizing that he has only one choice for his own conscience.
climax When Johnny Friendly’s gang murders his brother Charlie, Terry realizes the inescapable cycle of union corruption and vows to make the union pay whatever the cost, now that he’s felt the pain personally.
falling action Though in his rage Terry wants to murder all the goons he can find, Father Barry convinces him to rise above their level and testify in court to the Waterfront Crime Commission the next day, which he does. He then goes down to the docks to confront Friendly.
themes Informing as the correct moral choice; the transforming power of faith; power corrupts
motifs The rooftop as retreat from the world; Crucifixion dialogue; “D & D”: Deaf and Dumb
symbols Hudson River; pigeons; hooks; gloves