Director Elia Kazan was shunned by many of his Hollywood peers for naming names during McCarthy's communist witch hunts of the early 1950s. When his "On the Waterfront" was released in 1954 it was seen by many as a defiant attempt to justify his actions. Whether or not it succeeded it is today almost irrelevant. The film stood untarnished on its own two feet, eventually taking home eight Academy Awards and carving a place for itself in cinema history.
Marlon Brando plays Terry Malloy, a retired prize-fighter who has started running errands for the Dockers Union, a mob-controlled organisation that has intimidated the workers into silence. When Malloy finds himself involved in the murder of Joey Doyle, and becomes involved with the dead man's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint), he begins to wonder whether he too should stand up and be heard.
Today, elements of the plot have become so commonplace that it's easy to be jaded. Even "Erin Brockovich" herself owes something to the spirit of Brando's inspirational performance at the end of the film. But "On the Waterfront" retains the freshness of an original - exploring the difficulties and corruptions of working stiffs with a realism, sensitivity and intelligence that has seldom been matched since.
In 1999 Elia Kazan was controversially awarded an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to cinema. Some present at the ceremony refused to stand or applaud for him because of his past. But while his behaviour may always be open to question, his skills as a filmmaker will never be. "On the Waterfront" is testament enough to that.