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“Salt of the Earth” vs. “On the Waterfront” Films Essay


Every stage of the evolution of society could be characterized by a certain concern that impacted the minds of people and conditioned the appearance of certain values, problems, approaches, etc. Moreover, the development of any community could be considered the chain of new issues that trigger the process of the development of a certain movement resulting in the acquisition of new ideas and further sophistication of society.

Yet, being an integral part of civilization, art has always been reflecting the dominant moods and values to show the atmosphere of an epoch and make people think about the necessity of certain changes. For this reason, every significant shift in the mentality of people was depicted by various kinds of art. Moreover, the appearance of cinema introduced several new opportunities for filmmakers and directors to show the current state of society and reveal the most nagging problems.


As mentioned above, every period of history is characterized by certain problems and movements. If to speak about the middle of the past century, the increase in the importance of working unions should be admitted. The world still suffered from the aftermath of WWII and numerous states tried to recover. Thousands of people had to work hard to guarantee their survival. Yet, very often the conditions were poor and resulted in the appearance of numerous movements to resist the pressure of company owners.

Furthermore, the given environment promoted the growth of the importance of unions which had to protect workers and provide them with beneficial conditions. However, being the popular issue, it also gave rise to numerous discussions related to the nature of unions and their impact on the functioning of a certain company and its workers. In these regards, being one of the most popular forms of art in that period, cinema was not able to ignore these processes. Movies Salt of the Earth and On the Waterfront both depict the life of workers at that period and emphasize the role unions played in it.

The movies were made in the same year; however, they presented opposite perspectives on the problem of unions. The approach used in these films is conditioned by the views of screenwriters and their vision of the given problem.

Salt of the Earth

First, analyzing the movie Salt of the Earth one should keep in mind the fact that it was written by Michael Wilson the blacklisted American screenwriter who adhered to the communist ideology. This fact determined the main films idea and conditioned the choice of the director who would be able to make it. Yet, the communist ideology implied the great significance of unions and considered them to be the main power to fight against the rich owners. Moreover, this ideology stated that every worker or citizen should be able to determine his/her working conditions (Bernays 11).

These ideas impact the movie which centers around the workers of Delaware Zinc who struggle for their rights. From the very first scenes depicting the explosive works and miners scared eyes, a viewer realizes the complicated conditions and the dangerous character of the given work (Salt of the Earth).

At the same time, the scene demonstrating these workers households highlights poverty and some other problems. Watching these episodes, a viewer understands the reasons that make Mexican – American workers struggle to achieve the same conditions as Anglo miners have. Furthermore, the movie also emphasizes the role union plays in the life and struggle of these workers. The protest is supported by the representatives of this organization; moreover, it serves as the power that directs and organizes workers, guaranteeing protection to them. For instance, union men stop the eviction of the Quintero family and save their home (Salt of the Earth). It becomes obvious that the given movie tends to promote the given organization and presents it as an efficient tool to resist owners.

On the Waterfront

However, the movie On the Waterfront presents another point of view on the given phenomenon. It was written by Budd Schulberg who was the opponent of the above-mentioned communist ideas, and who was sure in the pernicious impact unions might have on the further evolution of the industry. Moreover, this point of view was not new as numerous thinkers and writers stated that the adherence to the collectivist model might result in the collapse of the economy and promote the decline of the whole industry (Orwell para. 16).

For this reason, the opponents of the union movement tried to persuade society in the pernicious effect they promoted on the environment. Besides, On the Waterfront depicts the life of the former boxer Terry Malloy, who has to work on the docks. His current place of work serves as the background to describe numerous problems that the main character should face while trying to survive. Moreover, it also helps to reveal the peculiarities of the struggle to control the waterfront. Being connected with unions, Johnny Friendly kills many people to obtain power while the police are not able to prove it (On the Waterfront).

Watching the movie, a viewer might understand the character of union which becomes a sort of organized crime and controls all processes that happen there. Yet, being the witness of crime committed by union men, Terry tries to oppose the system and faces numerous challenges. The negative character of the union and its actions are the main motifs of the plot. The screenwriter delves into the complexity of interrelations between all members who conceal numerous murders and the real situation. Moreover, the scene depicting the speech between Johnny and other union men demonstrates the character and atmosphere within this collective perfectly.


Nevertheless, comparing these two movies, one admits the significant differences in the approaches used to describe unions and their role in the improvement of working conditions. While Salt of the Earth tends to prove the fact that these organizations are the powerful tools that help to resist pressure, On the Waterfront, on the contrary, suggests the idea that the corrupted relations within a union destroy the basis of any organization and results in the creation of the unfair pattern of distribution of costs. This difference in the perspectives is also conditioned by significant social processes peculiar to that period.

The world was divided into two camps with different dominant ideologies. These movies could be considered the representatives of various mentalities: the communist and the capitalist one. However, Salt of the Earth was not appreciated by Hollywood and American society as it suggested the idea that contradicted to the appreciated idea. Its creators were blacklisted while On the Waterfront got 8 Oscars and became one of the greatest events in the world of cinema.

This fact evidences the great importance of the given issue as several Hollywood show hearings related to the creation of certain blacklists attracted the peoples attention and provided the public condemnation (Navasky 45). However, the reconsideration of the approach towards the evaluation of a certain movie and the decrease of the importance of ideology promoted the growth of the attention given to both these films.

Scenes and methods

Speaking about the methods and approaches used in these movies to prove a certain idea, one should admit the great realism peculiar to them. Directors try to present the simple story which will be understood by common viewers and make them think about the nature of the presented issue. Additionally, Salt of the Earth also touches upon the problem of discrimination, providing information about the character of society and the place of immigrants and their ancestors in American society. The fact is that colonization had a great impact on the mentality of people, and some of them were still not able to adhere to the new ideas (Fanon 54).


Altogether, both these movies delve into the nature of unions and their impact on the life of workers. However, being written by people with different ideologies, they present opposite perspectives on the same issue. Salt of the Earth tends to prove the great positive impact unions have on the life of a common worker and provides numerous examples to support this idea. Nevertheless, On the Waterfront, is centered around the idea of the pernicious impact unions promote on people and their role in the appearance of the organized crime.

Works Cited

Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. New York: Horace Liveright, 1928. Print.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched on the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963. Print.

Navasky, Victor. Naming Names. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003. Print.

On the Waterfront. Dir. Elia Kazan. Perf. Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint. Columbia Pictures, 1954. DVD.

Orwell, George. . 1945. Web.

Salt of the Earth. Dir. H. J. Biberman. Perf. Rosaura Revueltas, Juan Chacón, Will Geer, David Wolfe, David Sarvis, Mervin Williams. Independent Productions, 1953. DVD.

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""Salt of the Earth" vs. "On the Waterfront" Films." IvyPanda, 2 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/salt-of-the-earth-vs-on-the-waterfront-films/.

1. IvyPanda. ""Salt of the Earth" vs. "On the Waterfront" Films." September 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/salt-of-the-earth-vs-on-the-waterfront-films/.


IvyPanda. ""Salt of the Earth" vs. "On the Waterfront" Films." September 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/salt-of-the-earth-vs-on-the-waterfront-films/.


IvyPanda. 2020. ""Salt of the Earth" vs. "On the Waterfront" Films." September 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/salt-of-the-earth-vs-on-the-waterfront-films/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '"Salt of the Earth" vs. "On the Waterfront" Films'. 2 September.

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