Waterfront Essay, Research Paper
The Godfather and On the Waterfront
The Godfather and On the Waterfront are two movies that make an
attempt to explain organized crime, urban life, working people, and the role of
government in the lives of people in the 1940s. These two movies share many
similarities and differences form both a thematic and artistic standpoint. They also shed
some light on a part of American history that is not fully understood. It is in light of
these facts and observations that the movie, On the Waterfront is a more satisfying film
to watch, in my opinion.
In both movies, the general theme is the same. That theme is the role of
organized crime in American cities. Although they tell stories of different aspects of
mob involvement on a different part of society, the basic idea is constant, involvement of
the mob in everyday life of American society.
Artistically these two movies varied greatly, with good reason I might add.
On the Waterfront was releases in 1954, somewhat primitive times in the world of movie
making, and the Godfather was made in the mid-seventies, it is only reasonable to expect
that with the changing times comes changing technology, and therefore changing styling
of the films art. On the Waterfront is a black and white film, uses extremely few special
effects (as to be expected in this time of movie making), a somewhat corny dialect, and
a rare subject matter with very little precedent to work from. The Godfather, on the other
hand, is in color, utilizes cutting edge special effects (for the 1970s at least), a more real
dialect, which aids in the believability of the film, and the same subject, which in the
20 some-odd years since On the Waterfronts release had become a more researched and
documented subject matter. Taking these and other factors into consideration clearly
shows why, artistically, the Godfather is a better, more advanced film.
In both of these movies descriptive plot and setting helps to educate the
viewer about urban life in America in the 1940s. In On the Waterfront, city life is seen as
dirty, raunchy, cutthroat, and downright scary. It is seen from the prospective of the
docks, or the Waterfront , and life is good for very few people. There is no hierarchy
of power in this neighborhood, one group of people has all the power, and one man has
control over this group of people. Taking this into consideration, it is logical that the
members of this group are all comfortable, and well off, however anyone not involved
with this group with poor, and just barely scraping by. It is a mirror image of American
society as a whole form the early 1900s, the rich kept getting richer, while the poor kept
getting poorer. In the Godfather, urban life was seen away from the docks, in houses, and
big buildings downtown, a more upscale prospective. It is seen as a place where there is
more variation in the type of people who live there. There is more of a middle class,
making all three of the classes a little more equal in the power scheme. It shows a more
livable aspect of the city, where people can be trusted, family is important, and respect is
bestowed upon those who have proved themselves worthy. The only real similarity is
that business under any circumstances, always comes first.
On the Waterfront and the Godfather showed contrasting views about
working people in the 1940 as well. In On the Waterfront working people were seen as
the dregs of society, people whose only function in life was to ease the lives of the people
who didn t need to do manual labor. Seen an sub-human animals they completed their
work, and never asked questions. They are depicted as people who don t ask questions
and don t answer them, anonymity is key to these people. If they can remain unknown,
they can remain alive, don t make yourself known, and you can t get yourself into
trouble. You never ratted on somebody because you knew the powers would find out in
any event, so why make yourself known. It was a place where fear ruled over all.
In the Godfather the working class was seen differently. Since there were
three well defined classes in society, the working class was spread throughout all of
them. Working people, often times, were still sent to do the dirtywork of the upper
class, but it was different. They were expected to do the undesirable work, but they were
rewarded for it with decent pay and protection from enemies, as opposed to On the
Waterfront where people often went without the necessities of life and had to watch their
individual backs all the time, true allies were at a minimum.
In addition to describing urban life and the role of working people in
society, both films depict the role of government in the lives of people in the 1940s. In
On the Waterfront the police were not an issue, the police did not exist on the docks,
unless you call the power hungry union workers police. The only thing lawbreakers
had to fear was the sporadic federal investigations of the goings on in the dock area. In
addition, government officials, workers, and members were at a premium in the docks.
People took to the idea that we should let them fend for themselves, we don t bother
them, maybe they won t bother us. Unfortunately for the good people who lived around
the docks, this neglecting reached and hurt them too.
In the Godfather the government was another issue altogether. The
government was around, they were a very public, well seen part of society. The only
problem was that they were all on the payroll of the respective mob families of the city.
Therefore they proved ineffective in solving the problem. Each family had people in
high places that they could rely on when hard times hit, and these people were paid
handsomely for their troubles. The mob families had the government in the palm of its
hands, which was a clear advantage over the situation in On the Waterfront, having the
government on you side is a much better system in the overall scheme.
In watching these two movies I learned a lot about the 1940s or at least the
mob influence on it. I learned that it was everyone, in all walks of urban life. It was
something that people grew up with, they knew, and they tried to stay on the good side
of. Nobody wanted the mob mad at them, for obvious reasons. They were a dangerous
group of people who place importance in money, family, and religion in that order. I
learned how there were a precious few people with more power than the Dons, or leaders
of the respective families. Also about how it was a time where government did not rule
the people, the mob did. The government was full of men and women who sold out for
money and self security, people who only looked out for number one . Most
importantly I learned that it was a time that I am glad we, as a whole, have transcended
and that I am glad I was not a part of.
On the Waterfront was a more satisfying movie because it ended with a
better sense of closure. The Godfather ended with many loose ends still left untied, a lot
of room for a sequel (or two in the this case). On the other hand, On the Waterfront
finished nicely. The movie ends and you feel good about it and how it made you feel,
there is little left to the imagination. On a personal note, I also found something
profoundly satisfying about watching a movie where Marlon Brando was thin,
moderately good looking, and spoke in a manner that was easily understood.
Having analyzed, compared and contrasted many of the important ideas
behind these two movies one could say many thing about organized crime in the 1940s.
It could be said that it was bad, ruthless, mean, discriminatory, blatant, offensive, etc.
However one thing that could never be said about organized crime in the 1940s is that it
was not prominent. It was there and it was real, hate it or love it.