Elia Kazan

On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan)

On the Waterfront is relentlessly grim until the strangest moment in the finale. As the film finally reaches the point of savage, physical violence–it opens with the implication, but not the visualization of such violence–a supporting character (familiar but mostly background) makes a wisecrack. Until that point in the film, director Kazan forcibly pushes even the possibility of a smile away.

And even though Waterfront is desolate–gorgeously desolate with Boris Kaufman’s photography–there’s still positive emotion among its residents. Eva Marie Saint’s compassion and tenderness, not to mention she and lead Marlon Brando’s love story, aren’t grim but Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg don’t let any light in. There’s no beauty in tenderness, just the inevitability of it being taken away. With prejudice.

But Kazan acknowledges this level of negativity. Leonard Bernstein’s score booms and quiets, races and slows, drawing attention to grim realities (and the film’s willingness to confront them) while giving the viewer the illusion of a comfortable distance. That distance gets smaller and smaller throughout until it becomes clear the distance was itself a mirage.

All the actors great. Brando and Saint transfix. They work on a plane elevated from the grime of the waterfront. Co-stars Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger seem natural inhabitants of the waterfront, which makes them different to watch. Brando’s got to do so much in every scene; without him, without his conflict, there’s no movie. He’s got to sell every second.

He does.

Waterfront’s magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Budd Schulberg, suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson; director of photography, Boris Kaufman; edited by Gene Milford; music by Leonard Bernstein; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Marlon Brando (Terry Malloy), Eva Marie Saint (Edie Doyle Karl Malden (Father Barry), Lee J. Cobb (Johnny Friendly), Rod Steiger (Charley Malloy), Pat Henning (Kayo Dugan), Leif Erickson (Glover), James Westerfield (Big Mac) and John F. Hamilton (‘Pop’ Doyle).


Wild River (1960, Elia Kazan)

Director Kazan opens Wild River with newsreel footage of the Tennessee River at flood. The film is set in the 1930s, something else the newsreel footage establishes. Kazan and screenwriter Paul Osborn spend the least amount of time possible setting up the film. The newsreel takes care of setting, when lead Montgomery Clift starts his new job, he talks to his secretary, taking care of ground situation. River’s quick start lets Kazan fill every minute of the film.

The Tennessee River floods and the dam Clift’s federal employee is in town to build are barely subplots by the end of the film. They’re details, because it turns out–even though the ground situation’s established–River is more about what happens after Clift decides to poke around in it (since he’s new). That poking around leads to Clift meeting Lee Remick and Wild River is really their relationship and how it affects, and is affected, by the events occurring around them.

There are subplots with Remick and Jo Van Fleet (as her grandmother, who won’t leave her land), Van Fleet and Clift and then Clift and his forced desegregation of the town. Osborn and Kazan never force anything dramatically; the film has a very specific setting, geographic and in time. What could be melodramatic shortcuts are instead sublime, sometimes painful details.

The acting’s amazing–Clift, Remick, Van Fleet. Remick’s probably the best.

Ellsworth Fredericks’s photography and Kenyon Hopkins’s music also exceptional. And Kazan nails every shot.

Wild River is superior.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Paul Osborn, based on novels by William Bradford Huie and Borden Deal; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by William Reynolds; music by Kenyon Hopkins; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Chuck Glover), Lee Remick (Carol Garth Baldwin), Jo Van Fleet (Ella Garth), Albert Salmi (Hank Bailey), Robert Earl Jones (Sam Johnson), Jay C. Flippen (Hamilton Garth), James Westerfield (Cal Garth), Big Jeff Bess (Joe John Garth), Judy Harris (Barbara Baldwin), Barbara Loden (Betty Jackson) and Frank Overton (Walter Clark).


Boomerang! (1947, Elia Kazan)

Boomerang! is a mess. The first half of the film is a misfired docudrama, the second half (or so) is a fantastic courtroom drama. Richard Murphy’s script is such a plotting disaster not even beautifully written scenes and wonderful performances can make up for its problems.

And director Kazan doesn’t help. He embraces the docudrama aspect, having amateurs act alongside regular actors… sometimes even treating them interchangeably. The amateurs are awful, often due to how Kazen directs them.

Worse, Murphy’s only able to make the courtroom stuff work because he’s been intentionally hiding things from the viewer. It’s a terrible, terrible move; if he’d played the story out sequentially instead of keeping so much for reveals, Boomerang! wouldn’t be some lame docudrama, but a complex story about greed, morality and decency.

The first half has a great performance from Lee J. Cobb. Even in the film’s weakest moments, Cobb can do great work. It’s sometimes heartbreaking. The second half has top-billed Dana Andrews, who also has some heartbreaking scenes. He and wife Jane Wyatt’s quiet moments together are wondrous. Boomerang! disappoints because it fails all its actors. Kazan and Murphy could have made something special but aimed low instead.

Also excellent is Sam Levene as a reporter. He bridges the two halves of the picture, along with a political subplot–the country club reform party has taken over from the machine–and is the film’s glue. Or should be.

Great photography from Norbert Brodine too.

Boomerang! just doesn’t work.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Richard Murphy, based on an article by Fulton Oursler; director of photography, Nobert Brodine; edited by Harmon Jones; music by David Buttolph; produced by Louis De Rochemont; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dana Andrews (Henry L. Harvey), Jane Wyatt (Madge Harvey), Lee J. Cobb (Chief Robinson), Cara Williams (Irene Nelson), Arthur Kennedy (John Waldron), Sam Levene (Dave Woods), Taylor Holmes (T.M. Wade), Robert Keith (Mac McCreery), Ed Begley (Paul Harris) and Philip Coolidge (Jim Crossman).


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