On the Waterfront

Released April 1954 by Columbia with a budget of $910,000, gross of $9.6 million, black and white 35mm negative 1.37:1 screen ratio, mono sound, 108 mins., Laserdisc released 1994

On the Waterfront



poster from Filmsite


During the 1945 dock strike in New York by the ILA, the International Longshoremen's Association, leader William Warren "fell" and hurt himself and made a public "confession" that he had been tricked by the Communist Party. The New York Anti-Crime Commission met during the 1948 dock strike and subpoened mobster John Dunn on deathrow to name "Mr. Big" (possibly financier Big Bill McCormick or mayor William O'Dwyer) but the strike settled and Dunn shut up. The 1949 Pulitzer Prize was won by Malcolm Johnson for his New York Sun series "Crime on the Waterfront," about the dock strikes. In 1949 Arthur Miller wrote a play "The Bottom of the River" about the efforts of Peter Panto in the 1930s to organize the dock workers of the Brooklyn Red Hook district but was murdered by the mob. Miller rewrote the play in 1950 as a screenplay "The Hook" for Elia Kazan who wanted to make the film but it was rejected by studios. The 1951 televised hearings of Estes Kefauver Committee revealed mob leaders Frank Ryan and Frank Costello. The 1951 HUAC testimony by Budd Schulberg and the 1952 testimony by Kazan named names of former Hollywood communist party members. The November 1952 Crime Commission published findings that described many abuses and failures of the system; Kazan and Schulberg produced 8 script drafts over next 2 years that focused on drama and characters but not on the causes of the dock problems. Shortly after the film's debut in 1954, the AFL-CIO expelled the East Coast longshoremen's union because it was still run by the mob. In 1955 Schulberg wrote his novel "Waterfront" that focused on causes and involvement of the shipping companies, mayor's office, police, church. In 1955 Anthony "Tony Mike" de Vincenzo filed a lawsuit against Columbia because Terry's character seemed to have been based on him, and won a small out-of-court settlement. In 1979, ILA boss Michael Clemente (model for the film's Johnny Friendly) and other members of the Vito Genovese family were indicted for corruption and racketeering on the New York waterfront.


1. Techniques

2. Structure
3. Themes


revised 4/22/03 by Schoenherr | Film Notes