It was you, Charley

C'mon I'll walk ya home

"Palooka-ville is just outside South Queensferry and GNER's advanced fares make a one-way ticket much cheaper than a return."

Just finished watching one of my favourite films, On The Waterfront. This film was in my mind after it was one of the answers at a pub quiz I went to last Wednesday (you had to name the correct film from the IMDB synopsis: I am particularly proud, although not at all boastful, of getting the correct answer for Trois Couleurs: Bleu)

Anyways, for those who do not know, On The Waterfront is the story of a corrupt-boxer-turned-longshoreman who avenges the murder of his brother by testifying against the tyrannical mob boss who uses his control of the union to extort the dock-workers. Whilst I will move on to the political message behind this, it is first worth remembering the obvious lessons the film teaches us:

  1. They really don’t make them like they used to.
  2. Marlon Brando taking a shit would be more interesting to watch than most film performances of so-called actors nowadays.
  3. There’s something not quite right about pigeon-fancying.

However, there is another dimension to the film. The screenplay was written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan. Both controversially testified to the House Un-American Activities Committee, naming fellow Communist Party members to aid the blacklisting of Communists (and other lefties) in Hollywood during the 1950s. The opprobrium heaped upon them amongst the artistic community was such that there were widespread protests when Kazan was awarded a (richly deserved) lifetime achievement Oscar in 1999.

On The Waterfront was, therefore, something of an explanation as to why they felt it was necessary to ‘name names’. It destroyed the careers and lives of some of their hitherto friends; it abetted a vicious right-wing witch-hunt and it undermined the principle of artistic freedom but it was, apparently, necessary to expose the authoritarianism and intolerance of dissent that characterised the Communist Party. I’m not going to debate extensively the position they took but it strikes me that if they had used their creative talents to oppose Stalinism (i.e. on the big screen) rather than using the crude and less effective tool of witness-testimony, then history might be kinder to them.

Regardless, it remains a damn fine film. To end, I’m going to quote the classic exchange that takes place in the back of Charley’s car. Put on your best Noo Yoik accent and join in…

Charley: Look, kid, I – how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.
Terry: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.
Charley: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.
Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.


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2 Responses to “It was you, Charley”

  1. alunephraim Says:

    The poster for the film makes the political subtext all too clear:

    Though I find it hard to really *dislike* anything that had Lee J. Cobb in a major role. Great actor.

  2. Dr Paul Says:

    Hey man! The only real way to win the pub quiz is to be the quizmaster!

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