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.

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