Marlon Brando gives one of his most iconic performances as a docker who faces up to Lee J Cobb’s crooked union boss.
Leonard Bernstein’s atmospheric music score and director Elia Kazan’s inspired use of the chilly Hoboken, New Jersey locations are other prime ingredients of this landmark 1950s movie that was a turning point in American cinema with its harsh, realistic depiction of working-class life.
Brando’s Method acting style brilliantly balances the physical strength and emotional vulnerability of his character and never more so than in that famous ‘I could have been a contender!’ exchange with Rod Steiger.
His scenes with Eva Marie Saint and the one up on the tenement roof with his racing pigeons are also put across with a rare tenderness and that amazing ending almost makes being beaten up seem like a work of art.
See it again and you’ll realise that neither Stallone nor De Niro, Rocky or Mean Streets would have been possible without the Brando brand of genius.
Just what might have happened had Kazan not broken his promise to Frank Sinatra, and given him the lead role here, is anyone’s guess.