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Moments in Time On the waterfront

By Gary Macy

I usually write about the distant past, but I must share this marvelous story discovered by Dr. James Fisher of St. Louis University. You probably know the Academy Award-winning 1954 film “On the Waterfront,” starring, among others, Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger and Lee J. Cobb. You may not know that the character played by Karl Malden, Father Barry, is based on a real-life priest who worked on the waterfront, John Corridan. In fact, “On the Waterfront” was based on a story Corridan sold to Columbia Pictures, and he served as technical adviser on the movie. Karl Malden was so taken with Corridan and his work on the docks that he wore Corridan’s hat during the film to get into character. One of the high points of the film takes place when Father Barry gives a speech in the hold of a ship in which one of the longshoremen has just been murdered. Father Barry claims that every time “the mob puts the crusher on a good man -- tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen -- it’s a crucifixion.” It’s a moving scene, and comes from actual talk that the real Corridan gave to the Jersey City chapter of the Knights of Columbus. Fisher claims that “the ‘Christ is in the Shapeup’ scene from ‘On the Waterfront’ offers the most powerful representation of modern Catholic social teaching ever presented to a national audience.” I agree. Rent the film, watch it again for the first time and be proud to be a Catholic.

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego.

National Catholic Reporter, November 12, 1999