I watched On The Waterfront again the other day for the first time in many years. Marlon Brando‘s performance, which earned him one of his Academy Awards for Best Actor, is so powerful. I kept thinking how different Brando was onscreen in the 1954 compared to the flowery overacting of his contemporaries, or compared to stars like Cary Grant who basically showed up and flashed his teeth.
Brando’s “Method acting” feels so modern. He gave his characters odd tics and speech patterns. He made them real people. Pretty much every male star we see today tries to emulate him. I can see his influence – with varying degrees of success – on everyone from Heath Ledger to Brad Pitt.
Here’s the famous scene depicting Brando’s character, former prizefighter Terry Malloy, riding in the backseat of the car with his mobster brother Charlie (Rod Steiger). It’s the first time in the movie – and in the brothers’ lives – that Terry has blamed Charlie for his downfall. It all started with a fixed fight years ago:
Doesn’t Brando just break your heart? No one else back then could have done this character as much justice. In this minute and a half clip, you pick up exactly who Terry Malloy is: tough guy, not bright, good heart, mixed up in trouble, betrayed by his brother, doomed.
On The Waterfront cleaned up at the Oscars that year: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint, Best Director for Elia Kazan and four more prizes.
Are you a Brando fan? What’s your favorite flick of his?