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I coulda been a contender

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I coulda been a contender
CharacterTerry Malloy
ActorMarlon Brando
First used inOn the Waterfront
Voted #3 in AFI's 100 Movie Quotes poll

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"I coulda been a contender" is a line from the 1954 film On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando. The line is spoken by Terry Malloy (Brando) in response to his brother Charley "the Gent" (Rod Steiger) who reminds him that—before asking him to take a dive—the mob-connected union had fixed boxing matches in his favor as well.

Background[edit]

Screenwriter Budd Schulberg originally intended that Charley should point his gun at Terry during the "I coulda been a contender" speech. Brando, however, felt that this would be unrealistic; his character would never be able to utter the words in such scenario. According to Schulberg, "Marlon said, 'Look, in the script I've got all that stuff to say about "You were my brother, you should of been looking out for me"—a whole big speech—and all the time Rod [Steiger] has a gun pointing at me. It doesn't work. I don't believe it. How c'n anybody play that scene with a gun in his face? I won't do it.'"[1] In his article for Vanity Fair, Schulberg said that he and Kazan had known for days that Brando had had some kind of problem with the particular scene but didn't know what it was until they got to share a table at the tenement kitchen.[1]

Ultimately, together with director Elia Kazan, Brando decided that he could gently push away the gun Steiger holds in the scene.[1] Director Elia Kazan would later say: "[M]arlon showed me, as he often did, how the scene should be performed. I could never have told him how to do that scene as well as he did it ... If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don’t know what it is."[2]

Brando himself argued in the audiotapes distributed by Listen to Me Marlon (2015) that "There were times when I did much better acting." According to him, the line became memorable because "everybody feels that they are a failure. Everybody feels that they could’ve been a contender."[3]

Legacy[edit]

In 2005, a jury consisting of 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians selected "You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am" as the third-most memorable American movie quotation of all time.[4]

Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta re-enacted the speech in Raging Bull (1980).

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Schulberg, Budd (March 2005). "The King Who Would Be Man". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  2. Girgus 1998, p. 175.
  3. Heta, Marco (March 30, 2019). "José Mourinho and the disadvantages of realizing one's dreams". Football Paradise. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  4. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES". American Film Institute (AFI). Retrieved April 7, 2019.

Bibliography


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