Film Review on Waterfront and Waiting for Lefty
There are important reasons to compare the play Waiting for Lefty written by Clifford Odets and the movie On the Waterfront directed by Elia Kazan since they share common social problems and expose similar inner conflicts of the main characters. Both stories depict corrupt society and how strongly it distorts human values and ideals. The main idea of the stories is that a person should know right from wrong and accept all trials of the world as triggers for action without waiting for a leader to save or help.
The play Waiting for Lefty depicts the stories of four taxi drivers who are members of the strike committee. Joe, Sid, Miller, and Benjamin expect their elected chairman, Lefty, to arrive. On the Waterfront is about Terry Malloy, a former boxer working as a longshoreman for Johnny Friendly, a crime kingpin who corrupts, manipulates, and makes local people follow his orders. Indirect assistance in murdering Joey Doyle triggers the evolution of Terry Malloys character, whose nature demands to separate good from evil.
The play and movie fully disclose the problems of corrupt society, which serves as an excellent background for the main characters to encounter inner fears and find the way to restore human values. Pigeons in the film symbolize the striving of Terry and all longshoremen for the better life and civilized virtues. In the opening scene of the movie, Terry finds Joeys racing pigeon and lures the man to the roof where he gets killed by Friendlys henchmen. Soon after that, Terry adopts Joeys passion for racing pigeons. The following analogy depicts the whole state of things among longshoremen, You know this citys full of hawks? There must be twenty thousand of em. They perch on top of the big hotels and swoop down on the pigeons in the park (Spiegel & Kazan, 1954).
Terry admits that all people possess the potential to be free and fight for their values and beliefs, despite the superior position of the mob (hawks) and its predatory nature. Racing pigeons are symbols of peace because they are harmless, however, elusive and free.
Both stories depict risks people have to take to preserve their families or form new ones.
In the play, Sid is a man feeling his manhood being diminished by society. He says to Florence, If we went off together I could maybe look the world straight in the face, spit in its eye like a man should. Goddamnit, it's trying to be a man on the earth (Odets, 1935, p. 20). Sids idea of a proper mans attitude is destructive and violent. Sid and Florence cannot marry because they are poor and earn little money.
The scene of Joe and his wife fighting somehow draws a parallel between the worlds of business and family relations (Odets, 1935, p. 12). Joe threatens his wife that he will hurt her, but she does not take it seriously. Edna threatens to leave his husband just like any employer states that there are no irreplaceable workers. Edna is the representative of power in their relationship, and Joe should obey.
The main character of the movie, Terry Malloy, should confess that he has indirectly participated in the murder of Joey Doyle. Edie, Joeys sister, have enough generosity to forgive the man as she loves him. Eventually, they manage to get rid of the mobs influence.
The film and play show corruption with all virtues and ideals distorted by illegitimate power. Tommy, a boy from the movie, equates the idea of testifying against the crime boss with betrayal. Johnny Friendly, the boss of the local mob, controls the docks leaving no authority for the police and legal power. Gathering around murdered Joey Doyle, the crowd whispers that keeping quiet is the only way to survive there. Although the police sincerely try to persuade the witnesses to testify, people who suffer from illegal authority appear to be scared.
Waiting for Lefty also shows how easily legitimate and illegitimate power may switch places. Harry Fatt, the union leader, has the responsibility to protect the rights of workers, but he appears to be the main obstructing factor for the strikers. Joes wife introduces the idea of how Harry Fatt manipulates his co-workers, I never saw him in my life, but he's putting ideas in my head a mile a minute (Odets, 1935, p. 12). Fatt represents the power that interferes more deeply than working issues, symbolizing how tightly financial complications become mixed with family lives.
The characters with human and creative potential are afraid to leave the environment they are accustomed to, and all of them need triggers to get free and start acting. The movie displays how the mob, union leaders, and bosses destabilize the normal state of roles. Edie Doyle, the sister of murdered Joey, is a strong and determined woman who wants to punish the murderers. In contrast, Terry is nervous and uncertain of his every move, and it takes him much time to separate right and wrong. After consideration, it becomes obvious that Terrys path is a system of triggers which may or may not bring positive changes. Father Barry is frightened as well as helpless and evokes repulsion while trying to console Edie when her brother died. He only says, If you need me, Ill be in church (Spiegel & Kazan, 1954).
Distorted social roles, corrupt society, and conflicts between money and love are not the only themes that go beyond the plot. Benjamin, who is a professional doctor in the play, is fired just for being Jewish, and problems of racism and xenophobia will always exist. The way Barnes, the colleague of Benjamin, praises his idealism exposes weakness and passiveness of caring people. Classic movies and plays always preserve its topicality. They show how characters undergo inner changes. In the play, Leftys death encourages taxi drivers to act independently without waiting for leaders to help them. In On the Waterfront, Terrys decision was to spare his enemys life and take Friendly to court. He manages to remove all doubts and begin to listen to his conscience.
To conclude, both stories tell about people who live in the world where conscience and virtues are the signs of weakness. The main characters have good intentions and creative power; however, they should undergo serious changes to gain strength and courage to overcome social attitudes and start thinking independently.