On the Waterfront: Hoboken Happy Hour Recipe

Year Released: 1954
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger
(NR, 120 min.)
Drama, Crime Thriller
Academy Awards:
Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eva Marie Saint), Best Director (Elia Kazan), Best Screenplay (Budd Schulberg)

“I coulda’ been a contender.”  Terry Malloy

It’s dark and dirty on the docks in Hoboken, New Jersey, a jungle of crime and corruption.  Squeal and you’ll have a convenient “accident,” the longshoremen unloading your carcass with the same muscled efficiency they use to ply their trade.

Better to keep your head down, as ex-prize fighter Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) does, until the parish priest and the girl he loves give him the courage to stand up to his corrupt union boss, Johnny Friendly.

This 1954 film earned 8 Oscars, most notably for Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan), Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Actress (Eva Marie Saint in her film debut). And its fine cast and script shine as brightly today as they did over a half-century ago.

But that’s not the only reason to see this film.  It is a reminder of how quality often blooms under restrictions, like the “terrible beauty” of the desert-bred Arabian horse.

There were few if any special effects available or used in this film. In fact, On the Waterfront could almost be presented as a stage play.  In the age of Technicolor, the director wisely opted for black and white.  And given the relentlessly cheery bold tones of color film back then, it was a good choice.  Today we could mute the tones and give even a color film the right darker atmosphere, but not then.

And then we had the Motion Picture Code that put great limits on sex: even “excessive and lustful kissing” was forbidden. Violence was reined in, too. “Brutal killings were not to be presented in detail.”

If you were born after 1970, you might be wondering how they even put together movies under those restrictions. Well, they did it the old fashioned way, by creating characters and a story we cared about.

Many people remember Marlon Brando for his excellent portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), his grey hair slicked back, his jowls protruding, his raspy voice one of cynicism and command.

In On the Waterfront, less than 2 decades earlier, Brando electrifies his audiences with a character almost diametrically opposed to Vito.  He is not the well-dressed and almost courtly gentleman as Vito is. Terry is blue collar down to his bones; even the way he chews his gum is a working class art form.  An ex prize fighter, Terry is all tough guy on the outside.

“Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you,” he tells Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint).   

But the same guy dotes on the pigeons he raises on the roof, and he is almost shy and tongue-tied in Edie’s presence.  There’s a kind of Rocky humility, self-deprecation, and sweetness under the rough exterior.  In fact, I’d bet Syvestor Stallone channeled Brando’s Terry Malloy for his Italian Stallion role.

Conversely, Eva Marie Saint, taking the part Grace Kelly rejected, gives her sweet Edie an inner toughness and a stubborn quest for justice. She will not rest until she finds out who was responsible for her brother Joey’s death.  Blond, blue-eyed, and porcelain skin aside, she is no fragile beauty, telling Terry,

I never met anyone like you. There's not a spark of sentiment or romance or human kindness in your whole body.

She angrily kicks Terry out of her apartment and then melts into his arms with equal tenderness.  In fact, their rather chaste love scenes together capture passion much more accurately than the obligatory sexual romps we usually get today.  And that underlying passion is quite a few degrees hotter than Grace Kelly’s imperious flirtation with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, the film Grace Kelly preferred to this one.

Lee J. Cobb is wonderful as the guy we love to hate, the ironically named corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly.  While his right hand man, Rod Steiger, shows us just a patch of honor as Terry’s big brother.  There are things even he cannot do.

But perhaps my favorite is Karl Malden’s priest, Father Barry, recalling the pivotal and positive roles religious figures used to hold in our films.  Unlike the debased clerics Hollywood routinely exposes today, Malden is a force for goodness.  “Going My Way with brass knuckles,” as the film trailer promises.  The religious tone of his Sermon on the Docks speech is one we find today only in the religious niche market.

Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up! Taking Joey Doyle's life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow, that's a crucifixion. And every time the Mob puts the pressure on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen, it's a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if he was dead...Boys, this is my church! And if you don't think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you've got another guess coming!

Finally, a sweet backstory on the 14 year old who played the boy who helps Terry with his pigeons on the roof, Thomas Hanley.

“My father was murdered when I was 4 months old,’’ he told me in a 1994 interview. “We were living in Greenwich Village in 1939, and he just disappeared from the docks. They never found his body, but everybody knew he was killed.’’

Fourteen years later, Tommy was living a hardscrabble life with his widowed mother and brother in Hoboken.

“We were pretty destitute, living on welfare and eating a lot of onion soup,’’ he recalled. “Then we found out they were going to shoot this movie on the roof of our tenement.’’  –Lou Lumenick

Thomas also said some great things about Marlon Brando, who was notoriously hard to work with, at least later on.

Marlon Brando was a great guy, a lot of fun, just like a regular guy from the streets who took the PATH train instead of a limousine to the set. 

A great film, a tremendous script, score, and cast.  What more could you ask for?  Or as critic Colin Covert says,

“You miss this, you're buyin' a one-way ticket to Palookaville.”

–Kathy Borich


Film-Loving Foodie

Terry Malloy is a simple man.  When he asks Edie out on their first date, they go for a beer at the local bar.  And that’s fine with Edie, too.

But you can do better, especially if you have a viewing party for this film classic.  How about honoring the town where it takes place and was actually filmed, Hoboken, New Jersey.  This is as simple as it is delicious and the bucket in which it is served sets the right down home touch.


Hoboken Happy Hour: Gin Bucket

Booze for a Bunch: Group {Cocktail Recipes}

I’m a huge fan of entertaining. It’s not unusual for me to host a get together at my apartment before hitting up the Hoboken bars with my friends. I always put out some snacks for people to munch on, but let’s be honest, what’s most important is the booze.

While beer tends to please most guests and doesn’t break the bank, it’s a pain in terms of clean up. I’d rather not have to deal with all those empty bottles and cans. Some people can be fussy about what kind of wine they drink, and I always fret about not having what my guests will like. And while cocktails are always a hit, they require someone to be constantly mixing and serving.

That’s why I always opt for a drink that can be made in large batches and easily replenished. The following recipes are not only super simple, but dangerously delicious.  – Katherine Shaw of Hoboken, New Jersey

Gin Bucket

This one is as easy as it gets, with so few ingredients. I like to remain true to the name and present this lovely drink to my guests in an actual bucket.

  • 1 ½ liters Gin

  • 2 liters lemon-lime soda

  • Lemons and limes sliced in rounds (the more the better)

Mix all ingredients together in a bucket with ice at least 20 minutes prior to serving. For extra lemon and lime flavor, squeeze some fresh juice into the mixture.

Hoboken Happy Hours.com