DVD Review: The classic 'On the Waterfront' surfaces

February 21, 2013|By Andy Klein
  • Actress Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle and Marlon Brando as the boxer Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront." The movie is newly released on Blu-ray.
Actress Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle and Marlon Brando… (Courtesy of the…)

You don't have to approve of Elia Kazan's testimony before HUAC to recognize his 1954 “On the Waterfront” as a brilliant film, whose influence changed the face of American movies. Somehow both lyrical and hard-edged at the same time, this tale of mobsters on the docks of Hoboken won in almost all of the most important Oscar categories.

It's a little early to be considering the best Blu-ray/DVD release of 2013, but it will take a great year indeed to overshadow Criterion's new edition. Once again we see images that justify the value of transferring black-and-white movies to Blu-ray.

Still, the real selling point here (besides the film itself) are the extensive, generally first-rate extras, which add up to both a variorum edition and a casebook for study. The movie was made and released just as widescreen was taking hold, so it has appeared on various media with the old-style 1.33:1 ration and also matted to create 1.66 and 1.85 versions. The people at Criterion give us all three — their personal preference (1.66:1) on disc one, along with all the extras; and the other two versions on disc two. I'm torn between the 1.33 and the 1.66; the image in the 1.85 just feels cramped.


The release ports over “Contender: Mastering the Method,” a 25-minute discussion of the Actors' Studio, from the old MGM DVD. It adds an hour-long 1982 documentary, “Elia Kazan: An Outsider,” and a 2001 interview with the director.

That's just the beginning. There is well over two hours’ worth of new material, all of it worthy: a 17-minute discussion between Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones; new interviews with Eva Marie Saint and Thomas Hanley, the local kid who found himself playing opposite Brando in the rooftop scenes; an astute analysis of Leonard Bernstein's score by Jon Burlingame; a 45-minute reconsideration by critics and scholars; a background piece on the real-life people who inspired the story; and a five-minute comparison of the various aspect ratios. The whole package gets an enthusiastic recommendation.

"On the Waterfront" (Criterion, Blu-ray, 2 discs, $49.95; DVD, 2 discs, $39.95)


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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