The Great Contender

We had a Lovefilm DVD of On the Waterfront knocking around the flat for a week; I’d put it on our list because in all these years I’d never seen it. I wasn’t in the mood for an old movie, though, so almost sent it back unwatched, but figured I should try a few minutes to see if it was worth it.

Of course, it turns out to be one of those movies that starts strong and never lets up; I was amazed at how tight and exciting the script was, and what a magnetic presence the young Brando was. And of course it has that line: “I coulda been a contender!” Watching it, I realised that I’d never seen the actual scene—not in a clip show or anywhere else—and that Brando’s delivery makes a huge difference to the line. From years of hearing satirists’ imitations of it, I’d always imagined it in an up-and-down rhythm: “I could-a been somebody. I could-a been a con-ten-der.” The effect makes it sound whiny and resentful, which doesn’t serve the words well. But Brando packs it with yearning and loss by running up to it: “I coulda had class. I coulda been a con-ten-der. I coulda been somebody, in-stead of a bum.” Such a difference. Such a great actor. Such a great film.

25 January 2007 · Film

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