Study Guide

On the Waterfront Production Design

Production Design

So Real

Elia Kazan was all about getting real.

And no; he didn't sit down his buddies for super-earnest bouts of Real Talk. He didn't go around telling people to snap out of it and choose a career as an accountant over pursuing their dream job as a underwater circus performer.

But he did make movies that pack an emotional punch equivalent only to your SO inviting you out for coffee and saying, in a trembling voice, "We need to talk."

You want whimsical and stylistic? Go check out some Wes Anderson.

You want to leave the theater feeling as internally bruised as Marlon Brando in the last scene of On The Waterfront? Get thee to an Elia Kazan flick. Because Kazan's all about harsh reality.

The production of On the Waterfront totally reflects that. It's in black and white, shot on 35mm film—capturing both the black-and-white moral conflict in the movie, and the dark, bleak environment. Originally, Kazan and Schulberg pitched the movie to a producer named Daryl Zanuck, who turned it down partly because he only wanted to finance giant spectacles shot in Technicolor. So keeping the movie in B&W was a cool, uncompromising move.

It was filmed on location too—so you're really seeing Hoboken, and not some artificial Hollywood version of it. And there are actual Hoboken residents (Hobokenites? Hobokenese?) in the movie—local longshoremen who act as extras in the waterfront scenes. That contributes to the extra-real feel.

Kazan ran into some hiccups making the movie, though. For instance, Brando kept trying to improvise during the famous scene where Terry talks with Charley in the cab, until Kazan told him to stop it and just do the lines. Brando also had permission to skip out on work early to see a psychiatrist, which meant that Rod Steiger (the actor who played Charley) had to do close-ups in the cab scene with someone else reading Brando's lines. Steiger found this irritating (huh: wonder why?).

Plus, the producer, Sam Spiegel, didn't buy the equipment that would allow Kazan to project a moving image behind the rear window of the cab (making the car appear to be in motion). So they had to put blinds over the rear window, and film it that way. (Source)

But none of that got in the way, really. On the Waterfront remains a masterpiece, and a gritty slice-of-life, served up Hoboken-style.