July 24, 1994
HOBOKEN -- Four decades after "On the Waterfront" opened to unanimous acclaim and eight Academy Awards, the tenements in the film have long been torn down, and the pigeon coops have dwindled to two.

Yet many in this mile-square city still talk about its filming in the awed tones usually reserved for native son Frank Sinatra.

"The movie really brought a lot of fame to Hoboken," says Anthony DeVincenzo, whose father was the model for Terry Molloy, Brando's character. "It put the city on the map."

Mayor Anthony Russo, who remembers watching the filming as a 7-year-old, recalls: "There was a tremendous amount of excitement in the city at the time. As an event in Hoboken's history, it certainly holds a special place in our hearts."

"On the Waterfront" holds a secure place in Hollywood history as well. The Oscar-winning drama features what most critics regard as Brando's definitive performance as Terry Molloy, the slow-witted but conscience-stricken longshoreman who testifies against the corrupt union bosses who held the waterfront in their grip.

Brando won his first Oscar as best actor for the part, and newcomer Eva Marie Saint, who played his girlfriend Edie, was named best supporting actress. (Other Oscars went to director Elia Kazan, screenwriter Budd Schulberg, and cinematographer Boris Kaufmann). The movie also features extraordinary supporting performances by Lee J. Cobb as ruthless union leader Johnny Friendly; Karl Malden as Father Barry, who encourages Terry and the other longshoremen to revolt; and Rod Steiger as Terry's lawyer brother, who, it is revealed in the movie's most famous scene, had Terry throw a fight during an earlier career as a prizefighter.

Terry's lament, "I coulda been a contender," is the oft-quoted line from Schulberg's well-remembered screenplay, which is unusually tough for the era. With a highly dramatic score by Leonard Bernstein, "On the Waterfront" was not only a contender but a champ. The $830,000 production sold nearly $3 million worth of tickets in its first year of release, and has been a consistently popular attraction on TV and home video over the decades. To mark the 40th anniversary of its release -- July 27, 1954 -- it will open Friday for a two-week run at the Public Theater in Manhattan. The Record and Projected Images of Hudson County, a film society, are sponsoring a commemorative screening Friday at Stevens Tech in Hoboken.

Most everyone agrees that the movie's setting greatly enhances its appeal.

"We were very glad we chose Hoboken," screenwriter Schulberg said recently from his home on Long Island. "The humanity and the technology all around inspired us. We would see and hear things and put it into the script right there. I remember the day we were shooting the scene where Terry confesses to Edie that he's responsible for her brother's death.
We heard a tugboat whistle in the background and decided right there that the audience already knew what he was going to tell her. So all you hear on the soundtrack is the whistle."

Schulberg had visited the docks of Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as Hoboken during the year he spent researching his script. Hoboken was chosen because it was a relatively self-contained city that, in those days before gentrification, didn't have traffic problems.

"Also, the authorities there were willing to give us police protection from the gangsters," he said. "There were some threats by telephone, and some people shouted at us on the docks. But there was absolutely no violence."

Schulberg recalls that "some of the racketeers would actually come to the edge of the set and watch us filming."

The production was subject to some extortion. After Producer Sam Spiegel rented a local saloon for $150 for a night's shooting, the owners raised the fee to $1,000 for subsequent evenings. Having established it as a location, the producers were forced to pay.

Kazan hired as many as 200 Hoboken residents as extras -- mostly longshoreman who received $25 a day for a minimum of four hours' work.

Among them was Matthew Russo, an Air Force veteran who was studying acting at the American Theater Wing in Manhattan when he wasn't working on the docks. A lifelong Hoboken resident, Russo remembers the excitement in town when filming commenced in late November 1953.

"I worked up the nerve to approach Kazan to tell him I was studying acting. He said, `Come see me when we get to the docks. I'll take care of you.' "

Russo ended up in the movie's first "shape up" scene, in which longshoremen scramble for work tickets from the hiring boss. "What's a guy have to do to get an honest day's work?" is Russo's only line.

It was an ice- and snow-filled winter, with filming often taking place in zero-degree weather (filming was completed in late Janaury).
Russo remembers the shivering cast and extras huddling for warmth around 55-gallon steel drums containing burning debris as sleet swirled around them.

Years later, Kazan saw the weather as a major plus for the movie.

"The bite of the wind and the temperature did a great thing for the actors' faces. It made them look like people, not actors -- in fact, like people who lived in Hoboken and suffered the cold. In some scenes, their breath was visible as they spoke, which made the scenes completely believable. [Brando] remarked later that it was `so cold out there you couldn't overact.' "

According to Russo, Brando was nothing like the temperamental artist he has often been described in the press.

"He was very young at the time. He was like one of the guys. He would sit on the tail of a truck with us and eat with us. He told us his nickname was Bud."

Brando did have one special requirement -- his contract allowed him to leave every day at 4 o'clock so he could see his therapist in Manhattan, Kazan said. But the director adds: "If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don't know what it is."

The critics agreed.

The movie "is the most brutal of the year but also contains the year's tenderest love scenes," Life magazine raved. "Responsible for both is Marlon Brando." The Hollywood Reporter opined that Eva Marie Saint's "haggard loveliness seems to have sprung from between the actual cobblestones of the docks."

Time magazine also acknowleged the film's other star -- Hoboken:

"Seldom has the brick implacability of a workingman's neighborhood stood staring in such an honest light -- the tenement phalanx, the sad little parks, the ugly churches. And coloring it all is the pale chemical air of the big city. Over the docks in the morning, when the longshoremen gather stamping in the cold for the daily shape-up, washes the pale fog from the Hudson. And as the men gather, and dissolve, and arrange again, their faces settle into friezes as noble and grave as any ever painted on a tomb."

Those docks are gone now -- Holland American Lines, the largest shipper, left in the 1960s, and most of the rest departed for Port Elizabeth with the advent of containerized shipping in the 1970s. The old longshoremen are gradually giving way to the young former Manhattanites who began flocking to the city's brownstones in the 1970s.

But the movie remains the city's vital link to its rough-hewn past.

"Everybody has a copy of the movie somewhere in their house," says Public Works Director Tim Callagy, who was born while the movie was being made. "It's something we've been hearing about for all of our lives and our children will probably be hearing about for all of their lives."


What happened after the shooting stopped

Whatever became of:

MARLON BRANDO (Terry Molloy): Never had a role quite as good, though he won another Academy Award playing Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" (1972) and was nominated for "Last Tango in Paris" (1972) and "Apocalypse Now" (1979) ... Made only two movies since 1980, taking supporting parts in "A Dry White Season" and "The Freshman." ...
Currently filming "Don Juan de Marco and the Centerfold." ... Received
$6 million to write his autobiography, which will be published this fall.

EVA MARIE SAINT (Edie Doyle): Best remembered for playing the seductive double agent in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (1959) ... Other credits include "A Hatful of Rain" (1957), "All Fall Down"
(1962), and "The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming" (1966) ... Has worked frequently in theater and on TV; stars in an adaptation of Willa Cather's "My Antonia" that will air in December.

KARL MALDEN (Father Barry): Best known as the TV spokesman for American Express, a gig that ended recently after 21 years ... A regular on the TV-movie circuit ... Starred in "The Streets of San Francisco" series (1972-76) ... More notable features include "Baby Doll" (1956), "Bird Man of Alcatraz" (1962), and "Patton" (1969) ...
Played Barbra Streisand's father in "Nuts" (1987).

ROD STEIGER (Charley Friendly): Won his Academy Award for "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), but gave his best performance in "The Pawnbroker" (1964) ... Film roles have included Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, W.C. Fields, Napoleon, and Mussolini ... On TV, won an Emmy for "Marty" (1954), but the movie went to Ernest Borgnine ... Lately appeared in several direct-to-video thrillers, and as a voice on TV's "The Critic."

LEE J. COBB (Johnny Friendly): Numerous film credits include "Twelve Angry Men" (1957) and "Come Blow Your Horn" (1963) ... Worked frequently on TV in before his death in 1976, reprising his famed Broadway role as Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" and appearing as a regular on "The Virginian" from 1962 to 1966.

ELIA KAZAN (Director): Later films include "East of Eden" (1955), "Baby Doll" (1956), "Splendor in the Grass" (1961), and "America, America" (1963) ... Retired from directing after "The Last Tycoon"
(1976) to concentrate on writing books, including his memoir "A Life"

BUDD SCHULBERG (Screenwriter): Teamed up with Kazan again for "A Face in the Crowd" (1957) with Andy Griffith, which Schulberg is rewriting as a vehicle for Whoopi Goldberg ... Also wrote "The Harder They Fall" (1956) and adapted his most famous novel, "What Makes Sammy Run?," as a TV special and a short-lived Broadway musical ... Recycled "On the Waterfront" (published as a film script in 1980) as a novel and a play, and has written a sequel, "Back to the Waterfront."


Down those mean streets, then and now

Here's a guide to some of the Hoboken landmarks in "On the Waterfront."

Pier 6, Hudson River and 14th Street: The fenced-off building held the door Terry leads the men through at the end of the movie. To the left is the remains of the wharf to which Johnny Friendly's floating office was attached, outside which the climactic fight took place.
Locals say the shack was towed last year to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. But a spokeswoman for the seaport says it isn't there.

Church of St. Peter and Paul, Fourth and Hudson streets: The longshoremen's meeting with Father Barry was filmed in the lower church.
Only the side entrance is glimpsed in the movie.

Our Lady of Grace Church and Hudson (Church) Square Park, Fourth Street and Willow Avenue: Terry and Edie are seen walking through the park in front of the church, where they are accosted by a beggar.

Elysian Park, Eleventh and Hudson streets: Terry, Edie, and Father Barry all have scenes in this park, which has distinctive wrought-iron fences.

"On the Waterfront" Bar, 14th and Garden streets: Terry took Edie for a drink at this bar, then known as the Garden Tavern. It has many of the original fixtures today, as well as photos from the movie on the walls.

City Hall, Washington Street between First and Newark streets: The crime commission hearing was shot in the municipal court on the first floor, which looks much the same as it does in the movie.

Court Street between First and Second streets: This cobblestoned alley was used for the chase sequences. It's where Terry's brother Charley ends up on a baling hook.

Condominiums at 101 Hudson St., between First and Second streets:
These condominiums, built in the 1960s, replaced the tenements at
101-117 Hudson St. Scenes of the rooftop pigeon coops were shot there, as well as some interior scenes.

(Sources: "The Filming of Hoboken," 1976, by Carol Strickland; Hoboken Public Works Director Tim Callagy.)



Things you might not know about "On the Waterfront."

{BOX} Hoboken native Frank Sinatra was the first actor signed to play Terry Molloy. He was dropped because producer Sam Spiegel could raise only half the necessary $800,000 budget, based on Sinatra's spotty track record as a film star. ("From Here to Eternity," for which he won an Oscar, had been completed but not yet released.)

{BOX} Marlon Brando had been offered the part before Sinatra. But Brando turned it down because director Elia Kazan, a former Communist, had identified other ex-Communists in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

{BOX} Brando changed his mind after dropping out of an epic called "The Egyptian." Sinatra reputedly never spoke to Brando again, except when delivering dialogue to him in "Guys and Dolls."

{BOX} It was Brando's fifth movie. Kazan had previously directed him on Broadway and in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Viva Zapata." They never worked together again.

{BOX} Brando and Kazan were paid $100,000 each. Kazan also received
25 percent of the movie's profits.

{BOX} The famous taxicab scene was filmed in a single afternoon.
Kazan says he was so worried about finishing before Brando's 4 p.m.
quitting time that he didn't have time to "direct" the scene. Brando and Rod Steiger just winged it.

{BOX} In the same scene, Brando keeps throwing his head back because his lines were written on the headliner of the cab.

{BOX} Arthur Miller was the original screenwriter. Like Brando, he had a falling-out with Kazan over his Congressional testimony. Miller subsequently wrote his own waterfront play, "A View From the Bridge."
In contrast to the movie. the protagonist's decision to turn informer is portrayed as a tragic flaw.

{BOX} Miller's replacement, Budd Schulberg, turned his screenplay into the 1955 novel "Waterfront," as well as a play that has been staged in Hoboken and New York over the past couple of years. Both works have a less upbeat ending than the movie: Terry Molloy dies.

{BOX} Not a single sign or line of dialogue describes the movie as taking place in Hoboken. Schulberg's novelization calls the city "Bohegan." Fred Gwynne, later known as the star of "The Munsters," has a tiny role as one of Johnny Friendly's goons.

{BOX} Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Karl Malden were all nominated as best supporting actor. They lost to Edmond O'Brien in "The Barefoot Contessa."

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