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You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charlie.
In the film, Brando plays Terry Malloy, a former prizefighter now employed as a dockworker for the corrupt Union-boss, Mr. Friendly. One day, Malloy inadvertently participates in the murder of a dockworker that had planned to expose Mr. Friendly's illegal activities. As he comforts the dead man's sister, Edie, and meets a kindly priest, Terry is urged to help expose Friendly's crimes before someone else dies. How long can Terry go on before he finally has to act against the corrupt men who own the docks?
- Badass Preacher: Father Barry. This guy punches Marlon Brando halfway across a room and at the outset of the film is the only character willing to stand up to Friendly.
- Crowning Moment of Heartwarming: The other dockworkers declare their support for Terry just after he is saved from a Curb Stomp Battle at the hands of Friendly's thugs.
- Crowning Music of Awesome: Leonard Bernstein's score.
- Dead Star Walking: Charlie, played by Rod Steiger, is killed by Friendly's goons near the end.
- Executive Meddling: In the original ending, Terry was supposed to be killed by Johnny Friendly and company, but because of the Hays Code, Terry lives and it is implied that the longshoremen triumph over Friendly.
- Fallen-On-Hard-Times Job: The very problem that inspires Terry to say...
- I Coulda Been a Contender: Trope Namer.
- Inspired By: The source of this film was a 1949 Pulitzer-winning series of articles about corruption on the waterfront.
- Good Shepherd: Fr. Berry.
- Guilt Ridden Accomplice: Terry is duped into luring Joey Doyle to his death; he spends the rest of the film trying to make amends.
- Hair of Gold: Edie.
- If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him : Terry is talked out of killing Friendly by Fr. Berry, who urges him to testify against him instead.
- Oh Crap: Kayo Dugan, right before he is crushed by a falling load of cargo.
- Pet the Dog: Terry's love of pigeons should be one of your first hints that he's a good guy.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Terry and Father Barry respectively.
- Take That: Elia Kazan, infamous for the rest of his life for naming names on the HUAC committee, made this film to show his critics an informer in a positive-light...which didn't have much of a effect, given that people were still protesting his choice when he won the Honorary Academy Award.
- Throwing the Fight: Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.
- Troubled but Cute: Terry.
- Villainous Breakdown: Johnny Friendly at the end.