Favorite Movie Priest
Pat Archbold at National Catholic Register has raised the question of who is your favorite and least favorite movie priests. I’ll pass on least favorite; too many nauseating candidates. My favorite is easy. Karl Malden gave the performance of a lifetime as Father Barry in On the Waterfront (1954) preaching an impromptu sermon over the dead body of a murdered longshoreman whose union is controlled by mobsters. Malden’s portrayal of a fearless tough priest telling the Gospel message to men cowed by their fear of the gangsters who control them is completely magnificent and unforgettable.
I came down here to keep a promise.
I gave Kayo my word that if he stood up to the
mob I’d stand up with him all the way. Now
Kayo Nolan is dead. He was one of those fellows
who had the gift of getting up. But this time they fixed
him good— unless it was an accident like Big Mac says.
Pop, Moose, and some of the others glare at Big Mac, who chews his
tobacco sullenly. Some of the others snicker “accident.”
Some people think the Crucifixion
only took place on Calvary. They better wise
up. Taking Joey Doyle’s life to stop him from
testifying is a crucifixion— Dropping a sling on Kayo
Nolan because he was ready to spill his guts
tomorrow— that’s a crucifixion. 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
Voice of Father Barry continues.
And anybody who sits around and lets it happen,
keeps silent about something he knows has happened—
shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier
who pierced the flesh of Our Lord to see if He was dead.
SHOT OF EDIE—ON DOCK
Listening, moved. Terry has come up behind her and stands nearby. She
him but barely reacts. He listens intently to the Father’s words.
(NOTE: I am not indicating in detail the other necessary reactions—
those of Pop, Moose, the Negro Luke, the watchful hostility of Sonny
and Truck, the murderous arrogance of Johnny Friendly, and the
sophisticated cynicism of Charley Malloy.
But most important of all is the impression being made on Terry.)
Go back to your church, Father.
(looking up at Truck and pointing to the ship)
Boys, this is my church. If you don’t think
Christ is here on the waterfront, you got another
guess coming. And who do you think He lines up
Get off the dock, Father.
Sonny reaches for a box of rotten bananas on the dock and flings one
down into the hatch.
CLOSE—ON FATHER BARRY
The banana splatters him, but he ignores it.
BACK TO SONNY—ON DOCK
Terry turns to him. Edie notices this and watches with approval.
Do that again and I’ll flatten you.
What’re you doing. Joining them—
Let him finish.
Johnny ain’t going to like that, Terry.
Let him finish.
Edie looks at him amazed. Terry catches her eye, and then looks down,
embarrassed at his good deed. They both turn to watch Father Barry.
Near Johnny, watching Terry and then looking at Johnny apprehensively.
Every morning when the hiring boss blows his
whistle, Jesus stands alongside you in the shape-up.
More missiles fly, some hitting the Father, but he continues:
He sees why some of you get picked and some
of you get passed over. He sees the family men
worrying about getting their rent and getting food
in the house for the wife and kids. He sees them
selling their souls to the mob for a day’s pay.
CLOSE—ON JOHNNY FRIENDLY
Nodding to Barney. Barney picks up an empty beer can and hurls it down
into the hatch.
It strikes Father Barry and blood etches his forehead. Pop jumps
forward and shakes his fist.
By Christ, the next bum who throws something
deals with me. I don’t care if he’s twice my
Some of the other longshoremen grumble approval.
What does Christ think of the easy-money boys
who do none of the work and take all of the gravy?
What does He think of these fellows wearing
hundred-and-fifty-dollar suits and diamond rings—
on your union dues and your kickback money?
How does He feel about bloodsuckers picking
up a longshoreman’s work tab and grabbing
twenty percent interest at the end of a week?
Never mind about that!
CLOSE—OF SONNY—ON DOCK
Scowling. Terry, nearby, is increasingly moved by the Father’s
How does He, who spoke up without fear
against evil, feel about your silence?
Shut up about that!
He reaches for another rotten banana and is poised to throw it. Almost
simultaneously, Terry throws a short hard right that flattens Sonny
neatly. Edie is watching, a deeply felt gratitude in her eyes.
CLOSE—ON JOHNNY FRIENDLY AND TRUCK
A little way off .
You see that?
Johnny presses his lips together but makes
CLOSE—ON TERRY AND EDIE
She moves closer to him. He barely glances at her, then continues
listening to Father Barry.
You want to know what’s wrong
with our waterfront? It’s love of a lousy buck. It’s
making love of a buck— the cushy job— more
important than the love of man. It’s forgetting
that every fellow down here is your brother in
CLOSE—ON POP—MOOSE—LUKE—TERRY AND EDIE
As Father Barry’s voice rises to a climax—
But remember, fellows, Christ is always with you—
Christ is in the shape-up, He’s in the hatch—
He’s in the union hall— He’s kneeling
here beside Nolan and He’s saying with all
CLOSE—ON FATHER BARRY
If you do it to the least of mine,
you do it to me! What they did to Joey, what they
did to Nolan, they’re doing to you. And you. And
YOU. And only you, with God’s help, have the
power to knock ’em off for good!
(turns to Nolan’s corpse)
(then looks up and says, harshly)
He makes the sign of the cross. Pop, Moose, Tommy, Luke, and the others
do likewise. Big Mac and Specs, seeing the others, reluctantly follow
suit. Then, disgruntled, Big Mac climbs up out of the hatch and
All right, fellows— break it up! Let’s go!
Strongly moved, the longshoremen glare at Big Mac and then silently
start back to their places on the deck, in the hatches, on the dock,
Father Barry was based on hard-bitten priest Father John Corridan, a Jesuit, who from 1946-1957 waged a one man crusade against the mobsters who controlled the International Longshoremen’s Association. Go here to read about him.