Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Lunch break

I sat down and watched "On the Waterfront" last night. I hadn't realized that was where "I coulda been a contender" entered the cultural lexicon. It's a great scene.

According to Wikipedia, Marlon Brando actually improvised that scene.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 22, 2010; 12:23 PM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The core of the White House proposal
Next: The politics of nations: France

Comments

Didn't Brando improvise almost everything? As I recall, he had lines written all over the place, even on Maria Schneider's butt during the making of "Last Tango." (Makes Sarah Palin's crib notes look pretty tame).

The little smiles on his face at around 0:25 are fantastic.

Posted by: bdballard | February 22, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

didn't you ever take a film class in college?

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 22, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Ah, it's a fantastic scene, and great performance by Brando. Now for the big payoff: You have to watch Raging Bull, and see Robert DeNiro doing Jake Lamotta doing Brando doing the coulda-been-a-contender bit. Breathtaking, devastating.

Posted by: TomPhilpott | February 22, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

I think you posted your 2010 discovery of On The Waterfront (and the context of "cudda been a contenduh") just to make me feel very old.

Have you also not seen "A Streetcar Named Desire?"

No, on second thought...I don't even want to know.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 22, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

My other favorite anecdote about that scene, which I learned from Dinner For Five, is that they shot Brando's side first, and as is reasonably customary for such things, Rod Steiger (playing his brother Charlie) sat opposite him, off camera, to give him reactions to play off of. But then, when they went to shoot Steiger's side of the scene, Brando had left the set, leaving Steiger to have to play the scene by himself.

And now my spell-check knows that "Brando" is a word, but doesn't recognize "Steiger." Sometimes there ain't no justice in the world.

Posted by: CynicalJerk | February 22, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Watch Casablanca sometime. It's hard to believe how many cliches can start with one movie.

Posted by: cpurick | February 22, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

It's ok, Ezra, you're just a kid. How about: "I have always depended on the kindness of stranger." Or: "Stella...Stella!!"

Posted by: golewso | February 22, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr: Indeed, I think a basic film history/analysis course should be required in every curriculum (not that it would necessarily contain On the Waterfront). After all, we live in a visual culture, and understanding the nature and history of moving-image production is as important to our literacy as exposure to the written word. How can we expect our citizens to understand the constructed nature of, say, campaign advertisements or documentaries, or even the nightly news or blog videos, if they don't understand how to "read" images or analyze visual narratives?

Posted by: JJenkins2 | February 22, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

This scene was one of my undergrad philosophy professor's favorite scenes. I don't know how often it got worked into class.

Posted by: thescuspeaks | February 22, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

"(not that it would necessarily contain On the Waterfront)"

I majored in film studies and we never had a class that screened "Waterfront." It's a great film, but I can't think of anything particularly "teachable" about it, unless you were studying acting styles, which few film classes do.

Posted by: JEinATL | February 22, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Please don't tell me that you didn't know "Round up the usual suspects" comes from Casablanca.

Posted by: barbararuth | February 22, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I've never actually seen On The Waterfront, but I've know where "I coulda been a contendah" came from since I was a teenager. How specials and Oscar reviews and whatnot have included that bit?

The bit about Casablanca being a source for so many cultural touch points and cliches: indeed, I think it might even outstrip Gone With The Wind. And it's a great, great movie (Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, and Ingrid Bergman's not bad, either). Still must-see cinema, some 68 years later.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 22, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

for JJenkins2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtGSXMuWMR4

Posted by: bdballard | February 22, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Oh Ezra. That just makes me want to cry.

Posted by: ajw_93 | February 22, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Okay - now you have to read the Fresh Air interview with Kazan and Schulberg and you can watch this YouTube of part of an interview with Kazan.

Fresh Air here: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=111658533

YouTube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1idnsOUjixQ

Posted by: eRobin1 | February 22, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

"I majored in film studies and we never had a class that screened "Waterfront." It's a great film, but I can't think of anything particularly "teachable" about it, unless you were studying acting styles, which few film classes do."

This is a pretty devastating indictment of film studies courses. *Of course* film classes should teach acting styles--how can you understand the greatness of a movie monument like "The Godfather" (or "On the Waterfront") without understanding the Method? Individual actors may not matter much in the era of "Avatar," but throughout most of movie history, starting with Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks, etc., people went to movies for the actors.

And there's a ton of non-acting-related stuff in "On the Waterfront" that's teachable, from Kazan's neo-realist style to the social problem aspects of the screenplay.

Posted by: steveandshelley | February 22, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

bdballard: yes, freaking brilliant!

Posted by: JJenkins2 | February 22, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"And there's a ton of non-acting-related stuff in "On the Waterfront" that's teachable, from Kazan's neo-realist style to the social problem aspects of the screenplay."

Me too on this point. I think that as part of the evolution of American cinema in the 1950's, the social themes that "Waterfront" deals with make it a very important film, so if you are a person that wants to understand the changing trends in the history of American movie-making history, you need to see it.

Beyond that, it is an extremely memorable film, for more reasons than the acting alone. The cinematography, the screenplay, and the direction (along with the acting) all make it a film that is loaded with classic images that stick in your mind.

I actually don't think of the "contender" scene first when I think of the movie, I see Brando and the pigeons on the rooftop.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 22, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Of course, On the Waterfront is a massively important film in the context of the black list, HUAC, etc. It's Kazin's rebuke to all of those who called him a sell-out for singing to HUAC--particularly his old collaborator Arthur Miller. I've always found that aspect of it unsettling--an anti-union film designed to valorize cooperating with the authorities.

Of course, none of that has anything to do with the sheer talent on display: Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, all in crackling good form. Whoever played the mobster in the scene Ezra links to is great, too. And the bird angle--ah, such good stuff. OtW is on the list of movies that everyone should see, and we should praise Ezra, and not insult him, for having done so.

Posted by: TomPhilpott | February 22, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I first learned that "I coulda been a contender" was from "On the Waterfront" from "Don Adams' Screen Test," a game show in the 70s where actors competed over who did the best reading of a famous scene from cinema history. I actually saw the movie some time later.

Posted by: randrewm | February 22, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

"On the Waterfront" also has teachable moments since it relates to the Red Scare: Kazan and informing.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | February 22, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

so little time...
so many turner classic movies.
turner classic movies is a national treasure.
they have the thirty days of oscar this month,
and it is a mesmerizing parade of classics.
just this past weekend,
"who's afraid of virginia woolf"
"on the waterfront"
"citizen kane"
"the white cliffs of dover"
"breakfast at tiffany's"
and that is just to name a very few...

turner classic movies is wonderful.
:-)

Posted by: jkaren | February 22, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company