Director - Elia Kazan
I only really knew one thing about this film...
So I was interested to know what the rest of the film was like.... as even the crappest films can have a brilliant iconic line.
The film is set during tough times when people are scrabbling for work and where the mobs control the streets. This is a film about that mob losing their control, as things fall apart around them.
For the most part, Brando is quite underplayed, his tough boy attitude makes him seem cold and expressionless.... so for a long time I didn't really find myself warming to him. Especially as he is utterly overshadowed by the fiery passion of Father Barry, played with energetic and feisty zeal by Karl Malden.
He is a force to be reckoned with, his every scene not only benefiting from the passion in his performance but also in the tension that trickles out amongst everybody else. Malden's performance seems to cause everybody else to up there came. So as Barry speak, the (often silent) reactions from those around him show a close knit death-dumb society. There is a fear of speaking up and there is a pride in not being a grass.
Because, at the heart of it, this is a film about pride. It is Johnny Friendly's pride and arrogance which help his fall. Brando's Terry Malloy is proud of his skills and feel that his boxing career was robbed from him.... but mostly, it is the danger of a society too proud to ask for help. And how that pride can create a dangerous and tense environment.
This is something that the film does very well. It is dark, far darker than I'd assumed.... and the
tension in the film is palpable, a lot of it done with sound. Firstly there is the fabulous score which managers to offer real tension but remains subtle throughout, It doesn't fall into the Inception style trap of BIG BOOMING NOISES GETTING LOUDER AND FASTER
Symphonic Suite by Bernstein
Then there are just some amazing uses of background noise, such as the moment where everything changes for Terry, the moment of his confession to Fr Barry. The way that the background noises eclipse everything that is being said at moment where he confesses. You can see the gravity of the confession without having to hear the horrors for yourself. It is something which has been used and parodied many a time... Despite this, it doesn't lose any of the power when it is done seriously.
And now.... as the film draws into the final act we finally see Brando at his best... at his most powerful.
There are several moments where Brando's simmering undercurrent of power has been hinted at - The 'I could have been a contender' line being a famous example, but it is the guilt behind Terry which is so incredible. The fact that he is so haunted by the guilt of his former actions, a guilt which then causes him to do something about it, to attack the mob.
The determination and ferocity in his performance suddenly moves the film up a notch - and Fr Barry has been keeping the film pretty fierce throughout - so that the moments of post-court showdown, make for some deeply disturbing but massively moving cinema. A violent, bloody but ultimately noble redemption for Terry and payback on Friendly's mob
The film is really carried by the presence of Malden and Brando, but when those two actors have such incredible presence, it can hardly be seen as a bad thing.