On the Waterfront is a hopelessly dated movie. It’s in black and white (and grey). With the exception of Eva Marie Saint, all of the principal actors are deceased. The soundtrack is definitely from another era. You’ll have a tough time trying to sell it to anyone at your house on movie night. So if you do try, be prepared for much rolling of the eyes and shaking of the heads.
Which is too bad because despite these things, OTW it is one of the most relevant, engaging, and Christ-honoring movies you could ever hope to watch.
The movie takes place on the docks of New York City in the 1950’s. Terry Malloy is a washed up prizefighter, whose once promising career was compromised by his brother, Charley, and his connections to organized crime. Terry is now a bum and works for the local mob that controls everything that goes on at the docks. They dictate what comes in and what goes out on the ships. They determine who works and who doesn’t and how much they’re paid. And of course, they take a huge share off the top for themselves. Anyone who resists or tries to stand up to them is dealt with in the harshest manner. This is seen in the opening scene of the movie where Terry is given the job of luring an informant, Joey Doyle, up to a rooftop where two other men push him off. Terry didn’t know Doyle was going to be killed and the incident sets off a series of events that change his life.
The remainder of the movie is about Terry, Edie (Joey Doyle’s sister), a priest, and the dockworkers, all making the decision to stand up to the mob and against the injustices they have previously been silent about. When a worker named Dugan is killed while unloading in the hatch because he was going to testify against the mob, Father Barry is called to the scene. He preaches this “sermon” to the longshoremen who witnessed the crime:
Some people think the crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up. Taking Doyle’s life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. . . And every time the mob puts the pressure on a good man and tries to stop him from doing his duty as a good citizen, it’s a crucifixion! And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows has happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if He was dead.
Go back to your church, Father!
Boys, this is my church! And if you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you’ve got another guess coming. Every morning, when the hiring boss blows his whistle, Jesus stands along side you in the shape-up. He sees why some of you get picked and some you get passed over. He sees the family men worrying about getting the rent and getting food in the house for the wife and the kids. He sees you selling your souls to the mob for a day’s pay. . . And how does He, who spoke up without fear against every evil, feel about your silence? You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s making the love a buck, the cushy job, more important than the love of man. It’s forgetting that every fellow down here is your brother in Christ. But remember, Christ is always with you. Christ is in the shape-up, He’s in the hatch, He’s in the union, He’s kneeling right here beside Dugan. And He’s saying with all of you, “If you do it to the least of Mine, you do it to Me.” And what they did to Joey and what they did to Dugan, they’re doing to you . . . And only you, only you with God’s help, have the power to knock them out for good.
It’s a powerful speech from a powerful movie. Notice not only the priest’s emphasis on presence of Christ, but also the passion of Christ for righting that which is wrong. That’s what makes the movie so relevant today. Most of us don’t have to look too far to find a waterfront where wrong needs to be made right.
Why not meet Christ there?