On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront Literary Elements


Elia Kazan

Leading Actors/Actresses

Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint






Won Academy Awards for: Best Picture, Best Actor for Brando, Best Supporting Actress for Marie Saint, Best Director for Kazan, Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction and Best Black and White Cinematography. Nominated for: Best Score, Best Supporting Actor for Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Karl Malden.

Date of Release

July 28th, 1954


Sam Spiegel

Setting and Context

New York: On the waterfront (docks) when the longshoreman are beginning to get fed up with the corruption of Johnny Friendly and the waterfront's bosses

Narrator and Point of View

From Terry Malloy's point of view, primarily, but there is no narrator

Tone and Mood

Menacing, Dramatic, Startling, Romantic, Complex, Authentic

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Terry Malloy, Antagonist: Johnny Friendly

Major Conflict

The central conflict of the film is between the longshoremen and the waterfront mob bosses who are exploiting them and running a corrupt racket. Father Barry and Edie wish to figure out who is responsible for the death of Joey Doyle, who was murdered for nearly informing the police about the corruption.


The climax occurs when Terry confronts Johnny Friendly on the docks and they get in a fist fight and Terry is beaten up.



Much of the violence and dangers of the waterfront is understated throughout.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

The film won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Best Black and White Cinematography, and is generally praised for the way it is shot. Also, Marlon Brando is often cited as the father of film realism. The performances in the film are gritty, authentic, and realistic, a testament to the talents of the actors and to Elia Kazan's special touch.


Father Barry makes allusions to the Bible throughout


Terry loses the boxing fight to please his brother and Johnny Friendly, but ends up a bum, scolded for his lack of ambition.


No significant instances of parallelism.