For years I’ve had a list of movies I need to see to become “movie literate.” Mostly they’re ones I don’t particularly want to see, I just feel like I owe it to myself to get more cultured but without all that tedious reading. And I’ve been quoting them for so long, I feel like I owe it to the moviemakers to actually know what I’m talking about.
I may rethink that homework assignment, though, if all the movies suck as much as On the Waterfront. How did this thing ever get to be a classic?
It’s speechy, and ham-handed, and actually pretty gross in its message and characterizations. It acts like there’s this difficult moral ambiguity going on, when there is none. It’s clear from scene one what’s the right thing to do, and you spend almost two hours just waiting for this loathesome, affected idiot to just do it already. It’s insulting to women, because Eva Marie Saint’s character is nothing more than a stupid girl who digs Bad Boys and will abandon any moral compass she supposedly has just to hang out with one.
And it’s got the worst kind of faux-Populist attitude, where a bunch of filmmakers act like they’re down with the Common Man and they understand the honor and code that comes with life on the docks. But the movie shows the people as nothing more than spineless idiots and bums. They’re not regular joes who are put in a difficult position; in this movie, they’re cowards who will stand by while people get murdered right in front of them.
Of course, the whole business with Elia Kazan and the HUAC is pretty gross, too. Especially when he expects us to feel sympathy for this conscienceless moron who says he’s just trying to do the right thing and doesn’t understand why all the guys gotta be so mean to him and kill his pigeons. But the movie’s bad enough even without Kazan’s attempts to make himself out as a martyr.
I really don’t understand the appeal of this one, at all. I even tried to think that it’s all about context, and maybe it was brilliant in its day. But Rear Window came out the same year, proving that Hollywood could tolerate subtle performances, complex plots, and intelligent women. I thought the US was done with ham-handed, insulting “message movies” as soon as Frank Capra stopped making them.
I always thought that Best Picture winners were at least supposed to be watchable, even if they weren’t really enjoyable or even all that good. Now I’m afraid to see A Beautiful Mind.