Thursday, August 6, 2009


Marlon Brando was brilliant, and Rod Steiger was no slouch, but who put the words in their mouths? Screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who died today.

The controversial Schulberg had a fascinating life that included working with John Ford's documentary unit in WWII, and being one of the first US servicemen to liberate Nazi-run concentration camps. Later, during the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s, Schulberg was named as a communist, and he buckled and decided to "name names" as a friendly witness. It was not his finest hour.

Maybe he assuaged his guilt with "On the Waterfront." The movie seems to be a parable about the courage of a man to "name names," in this case a palooka named Terry Malloy (Brando) whose brother, Charley the Gent (Steiger) is the lawyer for a mobbed-up union boss named Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). This iconic scene in the taxi is a testimony to Schulberg's art as well as the actors, and we feel Terry's pain as he laments his wasted life as a bum who "coulda been a contender," and then decides to do the right thing and be a "cheese-eater."

Budd Schulberg, 1954

No comments: