“He Could’ve Been a Contender”: Thematic Integration in Leonard Bernstein’s Score for On The Waterfront (1954)
Issue: Vol 2 No. 1 (2007)
Journal: Journal of Film Music
Subject Areas: Popular Music
Just as the longshoremen unified and went with Terry Malloy to work at the close of On the Waterfront, so the triumph of this film results from the collaboration of the cast and crew united under Elia Kazan’s singular vision. Budd Schulberg compares the creation of the ideal motion picture with a horse race where all the participants cross the finish line in a “dead heat.”1 Schulberg and Kazan’s story of redemption, to which all people can relate, the depth of character portrayal by Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, and Karl Malden, the documentary style of Boris Kaufman’s photography, and the dual nature of the Hoboken docks—both idyllic and dangerous—make this film a photo finish. Furthermore, the movie is one of those rare art works that not only portrays the cultural Zeitgeist, but also allows viewers of subsequent generations to apply it to their particular place in history. Upon twenty years of reflection about the movie, Kazan stated that, “the love scenes are the best thing in the film.” While Leonard Bernstein’s music indeed enhancesthe love scenes quite well, the following analysis concentrates on sections of his score that escaped critical acclaim, but, arguably, were written more effectively.
Author: Anthony Bushard