This was written for The Decade Dash
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Coincidentally, I happened to watch this classic film for the first time in 2016. I watched it because I am trying to see a lot of classic films that I missed for whatever reason. My main focus of film-watching was 1939, but I decided to check this one out because I could get the VHS tape used for less than 5$ on Amazon. This film always ranks high in the American Film Institute and on any list of the greatest movies of all time. It is usually in the top ten, or at the very least, top 20.
This movie was an astonishing revelation to me. I had always thought of Marlon Brando as an old, heavyset guy who was overrated. That changed with this movie. My opinion of him used to be that he was an overblown egomaniac. I based that opinion on A Streetcar Named Desire and some of his later work, like Apocalypse Now. I did like him in The Godfather, but that was a more elderly side of Brando. I thought he was good, but nothing great.
I now see why Marlon Brando is one of the most revered actors to ever make a movie. This performance as Terry Malloy just totally blew my mind. He plays a young, naive guy who is an ex-boxer and a go-along to get-along type of good natured fellow with a very tender heart.
His brother is a Teamsters Union thug, named Charlie, played by Rod Steiger.
One night, Terry is used to lure another guy to his death. He has no idea about what he is doing, it relates to his pet pigeons, a hobby, he shares with the murder victim. The fact that this love of pigeons is shared is a poignant and heartbreaking twist in the film.
When Terry realizes what he has done to Joey (the unseen victim in the film) he has to process it, in light of the fact that he is falling in love with Joey's sister, played by Eva Marie Saint.
Karl Malden plays a neighborhood priest, trying to break through the gangster atmosphere of the neighborhood on the docks. At first, Terry doesn't listen, but gradually he does and he tries to do the right thing, always the right thing as he sees it.
I especially like that this movie surprised me. I went into it thinking that it was probably a dumb boxing movie. It was referred to a lot in Raging Bull. I saw Raging Bull for the same reason - trying to watch great films that I missed along the way. I didn't like Raging Bull, but I loved this movie. It was not boring at all and, considering it was made 62 years ago, it was as timely today.
The cast is fantastic and very talented. Lee J. Cobb makes a menacing Union Gangster leader type. Rod Steiger as Terry's brother is amazing. Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden are outstanding, too. It is just a wonderful film with astonishing performances.
This film won Best Picture and Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. I could see why it won all those Oscars. It took me by surprise, because I was expecting a stereotypical boxing movie. It is not a boxing movie - it is an anti-union gangster movie. The message about unions and what they can do to an individual is as relevant today as it was in the 1950's. Bullying is a big problem with unions and on the Internet. The message of the individual trying to do what's right in the face of tremendous pressure and bullying is admirable and even noble - as noble today as it was when this was originally released.
This movie has the unforgetable line, "I could'a been a contender!" that Brando's character says to Rod Steiger. It is a heartbreaking moment because it is brother confronting brother about what the elder brother has done to his younger brother's life. It is powerful and sad.
I never thought I would rate Marlon Brando as one of my favorite actors, but this movie changed the way I see him. It is one of the best acting performances I've ever seen in all my time watching movies. I am going to get the DVD in 2017 so I can watch it again.
I never would have guessed that I would love this film as much as I do. Sometimes movies that are esteemed, like Citizen Kane, fall short for me. This movie knocked my socks off with the heart and performances, led by Brando. I fell a little in love with Terry Malloy. I don't see how anyone couldn't feel something for this tender-hearted hero.
I absolutely loved it!
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