“I coulda been a contender,” says Marlon Brando’s ex-boxer Terry
Malloy in his famous speech from On the Waterfront. He’s talking to the brother (Rod Steiger) who convinced him to take a dive years ago on a big fight and who serves as lackey for a mobster (Lee J. Cobb) who corrupts a New Jersey longshoreman’s union. The film proved a contender, even a winner at the 1954 box office and at the Oscars, where it picked up awards for Brando, supporting actress Eva Marie Saint as his girlfriend, director Elia Kazan, writer Budd Schulberg, and four other categories, including Best Picture. While some see the film in the light of the era’s Communist witch hunts, this project was in development before Kazan's friendly testimony and based on real-life headlines of organized crime. It’s best to see it as the festival of Method Acting and film realism it is, shot entirely in real-life New Jersey locations and scored majestically by Leonard Bernstein. Slab Cinema pops up at the Botanical Garden for a free screening in conjunction with the Starlight Movies in the Garden series.