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The Endurance of a Few
by Jon Schuller

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At the beginning of 2010 I responded to an ad that requested writers for an internet movie column. I wrote that I was a lifetime movie lover and would love the chance to write about it. I was asked to submit a short piece on anything related to films. I wrote about one of my all-time favorite movies which just turned sixty years old this year. The article was less than two full pages long but was good enough to earn me a slot as a regular movie contributor to Matchflick.com. My first official column, The Newest Sherlock is the Original, was published in February, 2010. This recently got me to thinking about why some things endure over the years and others disappear almost as fast as they appeared.

Ancient men created some things that after many thousands of years have survived for modern man to view, analyze and marvel at. Perfectly preserved cave paintings, judged to be well over 30,000 years old, have been discovered in southern France and Spain. The level of sophistication of these works is amazing to see. As man slowly ventured into other places in the world, he brought with him other skills for self-expression besides paintings. Pottery, clothing, language, housing and farming were really all at much higher levels of knowledge than had been previously estimated. Based on archeological findings ancient men roamed far and wide in search of food and places to live despite many hardships of weather and wild animals. Once settled into places to live, they began to build shrines to their gods and other belief systems. We can still see these monuments today as they have been uncovered from years of being hidden. The rain forests of Central and South America kept Mayan, Aztec and Inca pyramids hidden for centuries; desert sands covered Egyptian pyramids; the jungles of Southeast Asia didn't give up their temples for many years until they were discovered in the 20th Century. Incredible Greek and Roman temples attract visitors today in record numbers. As man's abilities to express himself took on higher levels of sophistication, the results were quite amazing. Look at the paintings, music and other works of art from the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries: they persist and continue to astound us, even today, as they compete with the many instantaneous expressions on television and
the Internet. The sheer endurance of all of these accumulated works shows us that man never stops trying to show how much he can do as he competes with natural wonders for attention. As we discover more and more things about our Earth and the Solar System we live in, we must also strive for more diverse and better ways to bring joy to our world against all of the terrible events that daily surround us. I like the fact that movies, not much more than 100 years old, also endure, but in different ways than stone edifices or paintings do. Centuries ago there seemed to be more time for creating, contemplating and repeating these works of art while attempting to reason out why some pleased and others did not. Our fast-paced society wants instant gratification for things like understanding or explanation; "you snooze, you lose" might be appropriate. In 2 hours or so a movie can tell us a lot about many things on many levels. Some films seem to do it better than others.

Just look at the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 films of all time. From the earliest years of the Silent Film Era right up to the latest additions or subtractions in 2007, we can see an amazing mixture of dramas, comedies, histories, musicals, horrors, biographies and science fiction. Instantaneous recognition of titles and movie stars makes these films as enduring as any building or classical piece by Mozart or Beethoven. They reflect the times they were made in, the ideas of the film-makers and the hopes and dreams of the audiences who sat mesmerized in darkened theatres all across the country. How many awards they've garnered, the cultural "impacts" they had and their longevity over the decades are just a few of the criteria used to judge them. If you're like me at all, and you love the movies, every film, either on or off the list, holds a special place in your heart and consciousness. Historians use movies as sometimes accurate barometers of what the world is doing or thinking at any given moment. Films are easier to see now more than ever. We never even have to leave our homes to see not only the top 100 Films but thousands more, famous or not. Turn on your television and there they are.

On July 28, 1954, a film debuted that would have a permanent effect on the movie world. It would
introduce a different way of telling a cinematic story because of the actor who portrayed the main character. Marlon Brando played Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. He co-starred with Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle (in her first major role), Lee J. Cobb as Michael J. Skelly aka "Big" John "Johnny" Friendly, Karl Malden as Father Barry, Rod Steiger as Charley "The Gent" Malloy, Pat Henning as Timothy J. "Kayo" Dugan, and some then-unknowns, Fred Gwynne as Slim (uncredited), Leif Erickson as Lead Investigator for the Crime Commission (uncredited), Martin Balsam as Gillette, Secondary Investigator for the Crime Commission (uncredited), Pat Hingle as the Bartender (uncredited) and Nehemiah Persoff as the Cab Driver (uncredited). The men who played the mob goons in the film - Abe Simon as Barney, Tony "Two Ton" Galento as Truck, and Tami Mauriello as Tullio - were actually former professional heavyweight boxers.

Filmed entirely in Hoboken it was directed by the then-controversial Elia Kazan and screen-played by Budd Shulberg. It tells the true story of a local New Jersey whistle-blowing longshoreman, Anthony DiVincenzo, who testified against the Mob controlling the New York/New Jersey docks. A series of news articles published in 1949 chronicled the stories of corruption and racketeering that were rampant on the docks going back to the 1930s. The main players were all schooled in New York by the famous Stanislawski "Method Acting" technique. Brando and Malden had been in New York theatre together in the late 1940s and teamed again for the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951.
I first saw this movie in my New Jersey hometown, West New York, not many miles from where it was filmed in Hoboken. Filmed in stark black-and-white it was a realistic portrayal of the hard way of life for longshoremen. There were few scenes filmed on days with sunshine. Kazan wanted to convey in his no-holds-barred way what the main character, Terry Malloy, was going through as he comes to grips with the dirty business he was in while falling in love with the beautiful and innocent Eva Marie Saint.
Brando's transitions are absolutely flawless. Every facial feature and physical gesture was unmistakable for realism and pain. He portrays the younger brother of Mob lieutenant,
Charley "The Gent" Malloy (Steiger) who works for mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Cobb). Terry's a has-been fighter whose pugilistic glory days are long gone and is simply going through the motions of living. He drifts from cushy job to job on the docks, always provided by his well-dressed brother, Charley. Terry is not supposed to be too bright and he apparently never questions his brother's decisions, even though they are obviously dishonest and selfish. No matter how many times I watch this movie I am moved emotionally almost as if I was back in the darkened Mayfair Theatre 60 years ago. Everyone who loves film knows the famous "taxi scene" by heart and, like me, never tires of seeing it again and again. Brando's responses to Steiger's comments and commands are so real we forget they're both acting in the cut-away taxicab's back seat.
With unfailing, powerful direction the film moves Brando from his mindless wanderings to a self-directed quest for honesty and love in his life. While losing his so-called friends to death and isolation, because of his search, Terry Malloy becomes the real person he always wanted to be. Edie Doyle stands by him, makes him strong and true to himself and everyone around him as he fights the demons both inside and out to a bitter end. He finally confronts John Friendly on the dock where the men all struggle every day to earn a meager living. He has testified at the court hearings about waterfront exploitation and identifies the boss as the man behind the murders, the corruption and degradation of the longshoremen's self-respect and humanity.
It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won 8 of them, with Brando taking the Best Actor Award. The A.F.I. Top 100 list of all-time greatest movies ranks it at #8. This is without question one of America's greatest cinematic achievements. On The Waterfront will be revered forever as a classic American story of the underdog who really does win in the end. We all need some emotional support in our lives as events come at us both personally and from the news media. We depend on our families and friends for help and even some simple conversation now and then. A film like this can inspire us to keep trying, to keep pushing against all the odds, no matter how daunting they appear.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

It's More Than Just a Number, Isn't It?

Better Explain All of the Effects To Me.

Another Unlikely Friendship. Again.

Thank Goodness, We'll Always Have Villains

Don't Judge A Book by Its Color

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.


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