There are certain opinions that are passed down as truth. You’re not supposed to question them, just accept them as gospel. Citizen Kane is the greatest movie of all time. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the best album in history. And Marlon Brando is the finest actor who ever lived.
Anyone who started watching Brando in his loony-tunes, post–Don Corleone era might have a hard time seeing what all the fuss was about. In response, all I can say is, please check out the new Blu-ray Criterion edition of Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954, 1 hr., 48 mins., Not Rated). It will make you a believer. Brando plays Terry Malloy, a washed-up, inarticulate boxer who works on the New York docks and turns a blind eye to the crooked local union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) — at least until the death of an innocent longshoreman (and the grief of the dead guy’s sister, played by Eva Marie Saint) forces him to grapple with his conscience. The setup may sound pat, but Brando lets you see the guilt eating away at him from the inside, climaxing in his famous, heartbreaking ”I coulda been a contender” speech to his brother (Rod Steiger) in the back of a taxicab. It’s impossible to overstate just how ferociously alive and raw his performance is. Brando’s Oscar-winning costar Saint testifies to his talent and spontaneity in a new interview on the EXTRAS. There’s also a great sit-down with Martin Scorsese, who shares his memories of seeing Waterfront as a kid. A