On the Waterfront is a Piece of Propagandistic Sludge that Should Be Avoided at Alll Costs

Some movies just can’t be adequately critiqued without invoking their politics. The fact that Elia Kazan made On The Waterfront in the first place makes it fair game for reviewing the film from the point of view of a political statement. The movie is a counter to the indictment against people like Kazan that writer Arthur Miller makes in The Crucible. (And by the way, the argument that The Crucible isn’t appropriately analogous to the Communist Witch Hunt because while there were no witches in Salem, there were Communist in Hollywood simply doesn’t fly; there may have been Communists in Hollywood, but they had about as much power to influence the public as an imaginary witch.)

In case you aren’t aware, Elia Kazan was already a renowned film director by the time he willingly went before the House Un-American Activities Committee-the Witch Hunt Committee-and ratted out his friends with whom he had attended meetings of the Communist party. He basically did this to save his own Greek behind; there is certainly no indication that Kazan at any time really had any great belief that Communists were infiltrating Hollywood and were hell-bent on destroying the American way of life: you know, buying things you don’t need and dying in faraway lands to contribute to a President’s inferiority over the size of his own testicles.

Having destroyed several lives with his testimony, Kazan came under attack from certain quarters for his cowardly action. His response was a film that is so highly regarded it verges on the nauseating. (I’m not even going to get into the almost campy melodrama and the hysterical acting. I know it verges on a sacrilege to suggest that Marlon Brando was ever anything but brilliant during the 1950’s, but in my opinion you won’t see a more affected piece of acting in any other movie released during that decade). Brando’s character in On the Waterfront Terry Malloy is supposed to be a stand-in for Elia Kazan, you see, cleaning out the filth so that a bum can become a contender. Well, here’s the problem: The left-leaning writers, directors and actors whose careers Kazan helped to end weren’t gangster or criminals. IT HAS NEVER BEEN ILLEGAL TO BE A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY.

So the analogy doesn’t fit. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: Elia Kazan is no Terry Malloy. Kazan wasn’t bruised and beaten on his quest to become a hero by rooting out a criminal element. Kazan was a bum and a rat bastard who should have been strung up by his tongue instead of awarded Oscars. The fact that this piece of sludge won so many Academy Awards is itself a testament to the fact that the Communist element in Hollywood was minor at best.

Hollywood and movies are a business. They are owned and operated not to make art, but money. They exist to fulfill an Althusserian delivery of America’s prevailing ideology-capitalism is the answer to all our society’s ills and problems-and it would take more than ten or twenty or a hundred writers and directors to make a dent in that. Kazan did nothing to protect the minds of America from being infected by communist doctrine. (You know the kind of stuff I’m talking about: free health care, affordable higher education for everybody, higher wages for workers, and less inheritance for Paris Hilton.) It is unconscionable to reward Kazan and anyone else connected with On the Waterfront with Oscars or any other kind of award.

Look at it from this point of view: Do you think a movie that explains why Benedict Arnold betrayed his fellow countrymen would ever receive such adulation? What about a movie that explained the murder of Sharon Tate from Charles Manson’s point of view? Ah, I know what you’re thinking: Who’s making the fallacious analogy now? Not me. Manson and his freaky buddies ended Tate’s life as well as several others and threw countless other lives into disrepair. Are you aware that many of those who were blacklisted committed suicide? Then there’s John Garfield who died of a heart attack at the age of 39 after battling the stress of the blacklist. And those who didn’t commit suicide had their careers taken away from them for no other reason than that they attended a perfectly legal meeting years before.

I’ll go further with my analogy: Elia Kazan is worse than Charles Manson. Manson was insane; he can be excused to a certain extent. Kazan didn’t have to name names. He didn’t have to attend the hearings at all. He knew exactly what he was doing, he did it, and then he lived the rest of life never once expressing regret. Instead, he took hundreds of thousands of dollars and made a movie to justify his own cowardly, rat-bastard actions.

Do yourself a favor. Ignore this movie when Turner Classic Movies airs it as one of their “Essentials.” The only essential thing about this piece of garbage is that it’s essential we all learn the lesson that being a rat bastard with an Oscar still makes you a rat bastard! And watch The Garment Jungle instead. Same story but without the director making himself the hero.