Sunday, February 7, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: On the Waterfront

The Story: This one's a tough one to present—On the Waterfront. It's a great scene, a pivotal one in the story of the raising of the consciousness of Terry Malloy. It has Elia Kazan's trademark location shooting, and his way of directorially raising the emotional stakes just by where he places his camera.

But, it's tough because it's a little choppy in presentation. Blame it on Marlon Brando and "The Method." Brando didn't like to follow the script too much and would "get" the gist of the scene without embroidery. He would instinctually edit and cut around the dialogue for what felt true. And so, I've had to do a little editing myself to make sure that the scene remained true to how it's presented in the movie, while also presenting what was the original script at the time. Co-stars Rod Steiger and Karl Malden were both "Method" men, too, but stuck closer to the script than Brando. Steiger talks about doing the "could have been a contender" scene with Brando and being flummoxed that Brando didn't start with his lines but, instead, in one take, he asked how he thought the Yankees were doing, and in another, if Charlie had heard anything from "Ma." And in this scene, Malden sticks to his lines to the word, with the occasional addition every so often. Malden could play off anybody and not miss a beat.

The other "tough" aspect to this scene is it is so dependent on sound design for the emotion. Budd Schulberg wrote out the lines between Edie and Terry, but added a tantalizing little detail. At one crucial point, Terry is drowned out by the blaring of a ship's whistle. Kazan took that and made more of it. The scene, once out of church, has some dock sounds in the background, but not much. But when Terry goes off to make his confession to Edie, he introduces more industrial sounds, dominated by a pounding pile-driver that starts to get louder in the soundtrack as we get closer to the piers. That insistent drumming only increases the tension in the scene and when combined with the whistles and horns that eventually enter, the scene is no longer dependent on dialogue at all, but the screaming of the docks that reflects Edie's pain and horror. It's a confession scene...without words. And far more effective than if we'd heard them.

The Set-up: Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a past-his-prime boxer who works the Manhattan docks unloading cargo ships. He gets special treatment because his brother Charlie (Rod Steiger) is the lawyer-mouthpiece for crooked union boss Michael "Johnny Friendly" Skelly (Lee J. Cobb). But, Terry is having second thoughts—the City is investigating Friendly and putting pressure on his inner circle to testify against him. Terry was an unsuspecting accomplice in the murder of one such suspected informant, his friend Joey Doyle. The police are stymied by the lack of Friendly witnesses, and Doyle's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) has enlisted the aid of the local parish's Father Barry (Karl Malden) to try and offer safe haven to anyone who wants to break the code of "D and D" (deaf and dumb). But, the dock mob is getting reckless and sloppy, and Terry grows closer to Edie and is starting to feel something he's never felt before—love.

And guilt. 


Dialogue not used is crossed out. New or ad-libbed dialogue is in green.


Terry waits in anguish for the shutter of the confessional to open. When it does, Father Barry is glimpsed from within.
TERRY (blurting it out) Father, help me, I've got blood on my hands.
Father Barry looks at him.
TERRY Bless me, Father, for I have—
To Terry's amazement the shutter closes abruptly.
As Father Barry steps out of the booth, Terry hurries from his side of the booth and clasps Father Barry's arms violently. Father Barry keeps on walking and Terry follows him.
TERRY What's the matter? I've got something That's chokin' me. I've gotta get it out. 
TERRY Wait a minute, Father, I wanna speak to you a second.
FATHER BARRY Someone else c'n take your confession.
TERRY (following him) But you're the one I want to tell— Remember   what you said over Nolan— about Kayo Dugan -about keepin' silent your mouth shut when you know the score— I'm guilty— you hear me? I'm guilty... . 
FATHER BARRY (trying to move on) I don't want to hear it in there. 
TERRY I don't get it!
FATHER BARRY (rapidly) Tell it to me in there and my lips are sealed. Someone else can take your I don't want to hear your confession. But if I'll dig it out myself I can and I'll use it where it'll do the most good. 
TERRY But you've got to listen to me.
FATHER BARRY Now you wait your turn. Father Gregory will hear you.
FATHER BARRY I'll find you a priest. 
TERRY I don't wanna talk to...
Father Barry starts off again. Terry follows him desperately, under a terrible compulsion to bare himself to Father Barry.
TERRY Wait a minute.
TERRY I just wanna talk to you one second.
TERRY Listen to me. You gotta listen to me!
He grabs the Father by the arm fiercely, half spinning him around.  
TERRY Wait a minute!
TERRY (with relief, as he gets it out) Listen, it was me I'm the one who set Joey Doyle up for the muggers knock-off.
Father Barry stops and stares at him, realizing Terry is ready at last.
FATHER BARRY Come take a walk with me, kid, and give it to me straight.
FATHER BARRY There's nothing I haven't heard.
They turn toward the exit of the church.
EXT—LONG SHOT—CHURCH They enter the park, on rise overlooking the docks, Terry talking to him eagerly.
TERRY (pouring it out) —It started as a favor— for my brother— you know they'd ask me things and it's hard to say no—
TERRY  ...a favor— Who am I kiddin'? They call it a favor but it's do it or else.
TERRY And this time the favor turned out to be helping them knock off Joey. And I want you to believe me when I tell ya, I just thought they'd lean on him a little but—I never figured they were gonna knock him off.
TERRY Last night with Edie I wanted to tell her only it— stuck in my throat. I guess I was scared of drivin' her away— and I love her, Father. She's the first thing I ever loved. And I tried to tell Edie the other night, I really tried. She's the first nice thing that ever happened to me.
FATHER BARRY (almost brusquely) What are you going to do about it
TERRY About Edie? What do ya mean, about telling her?
FATHER BARRY Edie. Yes, about telling her. The Commission. Your subpoena.
FATHER BARRY I know you got a subpoena. 
TERRY Well, I don't know! It's like carrying a monkey around on your back. 
FATHER BARRY (agreeing) A question of who rides who.
TERRY 'Cuz ya know If I spill, my life won't be worth a nickel. 
FATHER BARRY And how much is your soul worth if you don't?
TERRY But it's my own brother they're askin' me to finger— They're askin' me to put the finger on my own brother.
TERRY and Johnny Friendly. His mother and my mother was first cousins. When I was this high he took me  used to take me to the ball games (when I was a kid)... . 
FATHER BARRY (violently) Ball games! Don't break my heart!
FATHER BARRY I wouldn't care if he gave you a life pass to the Polo Grounds.
FATHER BARRY So you got a brother, eh? Well, let me tell you something you got some other brothers—
FATHER BARRY and they're all getting the short end while your cousin Johnny gets mustard on his face at the Polo Grounds. Ball games! Listen..
FATHER BARRY If I was you, I'd walk right— (He catches himself and drops his voice.)   
FATHER BARRY  Never mind.
FATHER BARRYListen, I'm not asking you to do anything, Terry. It's your own conscience that's got to do the asking.
TERRY Ts. Conscience... . (shakes his head ruefully) I didn't even know I had one until I met you and Edie... this conscience That stuff...that stuff can drive you nuts.
FATHER BARRY (sharply) Good luck.
TERRY (waiting for someone to do it for him) Hey! Is that all you've got to say to me, Father?
Father Barry looks off .
Edie coming toward them in the distance. 

FATHER BARRY It's up to you. Just one more thing. You better tell Edie. Edie called me this morning. She's coming here to talk to me.
FATHER BARRY C'mon, why don't you tell her?
TERRY Thanks.
Terry turns in Edie's direction, reluctantly.
He goes off toward her. Father Barry stands looking after him.
TERRY Edie... Edie... .. 
EDIE (turning to him) Terry, what's wrong? 
TERRY I've been sittin' in the church. 
EDIE You? 
TERRY (almost inarticulate) Yeah, yeah, it's up to me, it's up to me— he says it's up to me. 
EDIE Who says? 
TERRY The Father. The Father.
He is trembling.
EDIE Terry— what's happening to you? 
TERRY I just told the Father. 
EDIE Told him what? 
TERRY What I did to Joey.
EDIE (whispered) You... .
TERRY (louder) What I did to Joey. Honest to God, Edie...
EDIE Don't tell me— don't tell me! 
TERRY (plunging in) Edie— it's—
What he starts to say is drowned out by an immense, prolonged blast of the whistle from the departing ocean liner.
Terry shouts his story out to Edie compulsively but we cannot hear it over the rasping sound of the whistle.
Edie is horrified as she catches enough words to realize what Terry is trying to say.
The whistle pauses a moment, giving us just enough to hear Terry shout—
TERRY Didn't know— Honest to God, Edie. I swear to God...
Then the blast of the boat whistle drowns him out again. When it finally stops, Terry is finishing—
TERRY —but don't you see, Edie, I never thought they'd—
(then hysterically as he feels her turning away from him) I don't know what to do, Edie, I don't know what to do! I swear to God I—
She looks at him, turns and strides off .
TERRY (calling, desperately) Edie... Edie... What'll I do, Edie, what'll I do?
She doesn't look back.
Terry watches her go, with mounting anguish; then he lurches on in drunken confusion.

On the Waterfront

Words by Budd Schulberg

Pictures by Boris Kaufman and Elia Kazan

On the Waterfront is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video and Criterion.

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