Edge of the City (1957): Martin Ritt Directing Debut, Starring John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier

Martin Ritt’s feature directing debut, Edge of the City, is a social- conscious melodrama set in the rail yards of New York City.

Dealing boldly with union corruption, interracial integration, moral integrity, and the meaning of friendship, it stars John Cassavetes, who soon will become a famous director (“Shadows,” “Faces”) and the young Sidney Poitier, soon to become a major star and the first African-American to win the Best Actor Oscar (for “Lilies of the Field,” in 1963).

”Edge of the City” was produced by David Susskind, who had previously staged Robert Alan Aurthur’s script for TV under its original title, “A Man is Ten Feet Tall.”

Cassavetes plays Axel North, an AWOL soldier who takes a job as a railroad worker, where he is bullied by bigot supervisor Charles Malik (Jack Warden), a union functionary appointed by the Mob.
Axel befriends Tommy Tyler (Sidney Poitier), his African-American co-worker, whose very presence enrages the racist boss.

After a series of arguments and physical fights, Tommy dies in an “accident” arranged by the boss. Only Axel knows the truth, but he remains “silent,” fearing the corrupt union.
However, inspired by Tommy’s widow (Ruby Dee) to stand up for what is right, Axel challenges Warden in a climactic one-on-one battle.

The movie lacks the dramatic power and impact of Kazan’s 1954 Oscar-winning drama, “On the Waterfront,” with which it shares some thematic similarities, but it is sincerely acted by all the cast.

John Cassavetes as Axel North
Sidney Poitier as Tommy Tyler
Jack Warden as Charles Malik
Kathleen Maguire as Ellen Wilson
Ruby Dee as Lucy Tyler
Robert F. Simon as Mr. Nordmann
Ruth White as Mrs. Nordmann
Val Avery as Brother
John Kellogg as Detective
David Clarke as Wallace
Estelle Hemsley as Lucy’s Mother
Charles Jordan as Old Stevedore
Ralph Bell as Night Boss
Will Lee as Davis

Running time: 85 Minutes.
Directed by Martin Ritt
Screenplay: Robert Alan Aurthur
Released: January 29, 1957 Limited
DVD: Jan 27, 2009