Movies   

 

 

 

Waterfront

 

By Chris "Big Daddy" Turner

“Marlon Brando that bastard, stole my grandmother’s cat,” exclaimed my buddy Jim as we exited his car in the parking lot in Hoboken, New Jersey. You see on the site of this large white concrete multi-layered lot once stood Jim’s grandfather’s bar, which was used in a few scenes of “On the Waterfront.”

His family lived upstairs from the bar, and when a cat was needed for a scene between Eva Marie Saint’s character Edie and her father Pop Doyle, Jim’s grandmother’s cat was immediately cast for the role. While 'Rosie the cat' did not receive one of the eight Oscars awarded to this 1954 film, her brief appearance was a significant moment in the film. Rosie played a six-toed, buck eyed, charity case taken in by Edie, the film’s heroine. Rosie’s character represented a flawed, dumb, helpless creature that needed someone to help him on his way. This was exactly the way union people were portrayed in the film, particularly Marlon Brando’s (that SOB) character Terry Malloy.

Terry Malloy was a small time washed-up ex-boxer who confronts the corrupt union bosses, who effectively run the longshoreman’s union members lives, in an attempt to expose their criminal practices and return the union to its members. He was also the younger brother of Charlie Malloy; the right-hand man of Johnny Friendly the gangster union boss, being Charlie’s brother qualified Terry for the choice jobs at each morning’s shape-up. 

Shape-up was when tabs were distributed, “Tabs” were the name of the coins qualifying a man to work on any given day. The union’s bosses decided which longshoremen would get “tabs”; they were always distributed based on favoritism.

 
Acting Deaf and Dumb

One scene in the film has the dockmaster throwing the tabs up in the air and to the ground. As the union members beat each other up and crawl around on the ground scrambling for a tab and a day’s work the union bosses’ thugs stood around laughing at the pathetic animalistic behavior of the members.

Terry’s moral dilemma was if he should act deaf and dumb -- or D and D as they say in the film -- or should he listen to Edie and the local priest and do the right thing, which would be to testify to the crime commission about what he knows about the mob’s control of the local.

While I don't think the influence of organized crime has as much a presence in most union leadership today, what union member hasn’t been confronted at some time with a choice of speaking up and exposing a work-rule or contract issue not being followed, and possibly facing the loss of their job or favored assignment -- or acting D and D and looking the other way. As Terry Malloy says in the film “conscience -- that stuff can drive you nuts.”

This was a movie based on conscience. A forward to the film states that the “film will exemplify the way self appointed tyrants can be defeated by right-thinking people in a vital democracy.”

Elia Kazan an Outcast

The parallels between Rosie the cat’s character and Brando’s (the infidel) are further mimicked by the real-life story of the film's director Elia Kazan. “On the Waterfront” was the first film made by Kazan, following his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee, in his testimony he named former associates who were involved in the Communist Party. This made him an outcast to the mostly left-wing film industry; these feelings toward him are still present today. A few years ago the motion picture academy presented Kazan an “Lifetime Achievement Award, many people in the crowd didn’t clap or even acknowledge Kazan at the ceremony. Kazan felt that “On the Waterfront” was his vindication for his actions. He wrote in his autobiography that the night his film took home eight Oscars including one for his directing, “I was tasting vengeance that night and enjoying it. ‘On the Waterfront’ is my own story; every day I worked on that film, I was telling the world where I stood and my critics to go ---- themselves.”

Accurately Captured a Time & Place

 “On the Waterfront” has been called the best American film ever produced. It truly captures the grim oppressive atmosphere of the dead-end lives of dockworkers on the Hoboken Waterfront. I asked my father the other night at the dinner table if he had ever seen the movie, knowing full well that he must have, and what he thought of it. My dad is a 77 year old retired Jersey City (which borders Hoboken) union fireman, among other things. He said, ”I’ve never seen another film so accurately capture the mood of a time and place as “On the Waterfront.” While the movie’s ending was somewhat predicable and a little corny, particularly by today's motion picture industry standards, I would encourage everyone to rent a copy of this flick the next time they are wandering up and down the aisles at Blockbuster, it truly is an American classic.

Rose the Cat's Fate

The success of this film re-established Elia Kazan as one of Hollywood’s premier filmmakers. Marlon Brando’s (that dirtbag) performance has been called possibly the greatest given by any actor ever. Rosie the cat did not fare as well; she disappeared during the filming and was never seen again. My friend Jim’s family has been convinced for the past fifty years that noted cat-lover Brando kidnapped their beloved grandma’s cat, and would someday like to speak to the actor regarding this alleged theft. Just as Hollywood has never forgiven Kazan for his actions, Jim’s family hasn’t forgiven Brando for his alleged catnapping. I'm going to chalk this up as another real-life/movie parallel involving this all time classic film.