You don't have to approve of Elia Kazan's testimony before HUAC to recognize his 1954 "On the Waterfront" as a brilliant film, whose influence changed the face of American movies. Somehow both lyrical and hard-edged at the same time, this tale of mobsters on the docks of Hoboken won in almost all of the most important Oscar categories.
It's a little early to be considering the best Blu-ray/DVD release of 2013, but it will take a great year indeed to overshadow Criterion's new edition. Once again we see images that justify the value of transferring black-and-white movies to Blu-ray.
Still, the real selling point here (besides the film itself) are the extensive, generally first-rate extras, which add up to both a variorum edition and a casebook for study. The movie was made and released just as widescreen was taking hold, so it has appeared on various media with the old-style 1.33:1 ration and also matted to create 1.66 and 1.85 versions. The people at Criterion give us all three — their personal preference (1.66:1) on disc one, along with all the extras; and the other two versions on disc two. I'm torn between the 1.33 and the 1.66; the image in the 1.85 just feels cramped.
The release ports over "Contender: Mastering the Method," a 25-minute discussion of the Actors' Studio, from the old MGM DVD. It adds an hour-long 1982 documentary, "Elia Kazan: An Outsider," and a 2001 interview with the director.
That's just the beginning. There is well over two hours' worth of new material, all of it worthy: a 17-minute discussion between Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones; new interviews with Eva Marie Saint and Thomas Hanley, the local kid who found himself playing opposite Brando in the rooftop scenes; an astute analysis of Leonard Bernstein's score by Jon Burlingame; a 45-minute reconsideration by critics and scholars; a background piece on the real-life people who inspired the story; and a five-minute comparison of the various aspect ratios. The whole package gets an enthusiastic recommendation.
"On the Waterfront" (Criterion, Blu-ray, 2 discs, $49.95; DVD, 2 discs, $39.95)