Study Guide

On the Waterfront Charley Malloy (Rod Steiger)

Charley Malloy (Rod Steiger)

Bros Before—Er—Bros After Mob Connections

The world is full of expressions about the bond between brothers. Brothers-in-arms. Being your brother's keeper. Brothers from another mother. Band of Brothers.

And the way Charley Malloy treats Terry exemplifies exactly none of them.

Instead of looking out for his bro, Charley exploits him. Instead of encouraging him to become a great boxer, he torpedoes his chances at a career. Instead of taking care of him, he lets him be an accomplice in a murder.

Charley and Terry both had difficult childhoods, living at a "Children's Home" after their father died. But, whereas Terry has kept his conscience alive, Charley becomes a cynical and hardened criminal: the brains of Johnny Friendly's operation.

He seems a little regretful after Johnny has Joey Doyle killed, but he doesn't second-guess it, unlike Terry. He also is full of justifications for the criminal scams their gang pulls off. He explains why it's right for them to rip off the shipping boats by threatening walkouts, saying,

CHARLEY: If we can get it, we're entitled to it.

That's pretty warped logic.

Mark Twain once said, "You tell me whar' a man gets his corn pone, and I'll tell you what his 'pinions is." (See the essay, "Corn Pone Opinions ").

Twain meant that people develop their opinions based on who pays them and provides for them, not using their own consciences. Charley's just like that. He goes along with Johnny's party line, simply because he personally profits from it.

When Johnny wants Terry to spy on the dockworkers and Father Barry, Terry's reluctant. Charley tells him:

CHARLEY: Johnny does you favors, kid. You got to do a little one for him once in a while.

A little favor? A little favor?! Terry just did a huge and totally unethical favor for Johnny, helping lure Joey onto the roof where Johnny's thugs then pushed him off. To act like Terry owes Johnny is totally bizarre.

Bad Karma Comes Around

But Charley finally comes to a reckoning when he becomes a victim of the very gang he supported: they force him to try to talk sense into Terry and convince him not to testify. Otherwise, they're going to kill Terry.

But Terry hasn't made up his mind yet, and won't back down. At one point, Charley—his own brother—pulls a gun on him. Terry looks hurt, but also gently sad. He lightly pushes the gun away, and Charley finally seems ashamed. He's seen himself as what he is: a criminal willing to pull a gun on his very own bro.

But the truth-telling sesh isn't over yet. Rather than owing Charley and Johnny favors, Terry demonstrates that they ruined his life. He could've been a promising boxer, but Charley made him take a dive in the biggest fight of his life, so that he and his cronies could win a big bet. Terry got a cut of the money, but his dreams were shattered.

Charley can't contradict this. It's true. So, he does the only good thing he can do: he lets Charley escape Johnny's clutches. In return, Johnny's men shoot Charley dead and then hang him on a hook outside the apartment where Terry is visiting Edie.

This is sad…but it's not unfair. Charley didn't object to the murders Johnny was committing—of Joey, Dugan, or anybody else—and he's now become a victim of his own gang. Even if Charley's not as bad as Johnny, it's still poetic justice.

What goes around, comes around…and ends up hanging from a meat-hook. (That's the way the expression goes, right?)

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