Marty (1955) / Romance-Drama
MPAA rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some mild innuendo
Running time: 92 min.
Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Joe Mantell, Jerry Paris, Karen Steele, Frank Sutton, Augusta Ciolli,
Small role: Jerry Orbach, Paddy Chayefsky
Director: Delbert Mann
Screenplay: Paddy Chayefsky (based on his teleplay)
Review published April 28, 2013
If I gave stars to films solely based on its likeability factor, perhaps I would give Marty, which took home the Best Picture prize for 1955, a five-star review. That's not to say that this is a bad film for not getting five stars, as it features a truly rich and insightful screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky (Network, Altered States), and an endearingly charismatic performance by Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch, The Trackers) at the film's heart.
Marty, the film, originally started off as a live TV broadcast just a couple of years before starring Rod Steiger in the title role, and had also been directed by first-timer Delbert Mann (That Touch of Mink, Separate Tables) and written by Paddy Chayefsky. The film takes place over the course of two days, but the two most important ones in the life of a 34-year-old Italian-American butcher in the Bronx named Marty Pilletti.
Marty's main problem, at least according to his mother (Minciotti, The Wrong Man), friends and pretty much everyone around him, is that he hasn't found himself a good woman and started a family. It's not easy for a portly butcher without chiseled looks in this image-oriented town, and after night after night of heartache in trying to woo the local ladies, he's pretty much decided to resign himself to bachelorhood, and concentrate on turning his business into a success.
Marty's living with his doting mother, who cajoles her son to go out to the local dance hall and find himself a 'real tomato'. He tries, but the fish aren't biting for Marty yet again. It's the same old story, until Marty asks a 'dog' of a school teacher named Clara (Blair, The Lovemaker), who has just been abandoned by her date for a better looking woman, for a dance. The two misfits soon find they have a good deal in common in the romance department, and once the evening is finally done several hours later, they find that they quite like each other. However, not everyone is enamored of the girl as Marty.
Marty is a beloved movie about never giving up on love, no matter who you are. While most romances are full of beautiful people who find one another with relative ease, here is a film for most of the rest of us that shows that romance isn't always some fairytale where a captivating princess gets rescued by a dashing knight on a white horse. Chayefsky's well-rounded characters sell the film's authenticity, even though the film as a whole has an inherent predictability. We like the movie because we truly like Marty, and though the sophisticated film ends with the possibility of Marty returning to his life of hopelessness in love, we know we're not going to be left hanging. And we don't mind a happy ending in this one.
Chayefsky brilliantly captures the elements of his characters, from the suffocation of Marty's home life with a mother who wants Marty to find someone, but that someone will never seem good enough. His bachelor friends like Marty to tag along and party with them as they carouse with the local ladies, but they're not very encouraging either. All of them love Marty, but the vacuum that may be caused by Marty no longer being there is enough to kick up a cloud of jealousy.
Much can be made of how Marty has chosen his own obstacles to love by listening to the advice of others, as well as his own self-defeating inner voice. Once he realizes that he does have some self-worth, avenues present themselves -- avenues that were there all along, if only he would have been looking for them where his friends had not.
Marty is a curiosity among Best Picture winners, as it is a small, personal story about average people doing average things that doesn't break any new ground cinematically. It's just an immensely likeable and well-told story that speaks to audiences in ways not often spoken to by typical Hollywood fare. We've all felt like Marty at one time or another, so it's a film that is instantly relatable. While I won't go so far as proclaim it a masterpiece, there is definitely a special place for a film like Marty for anyone who is feeling down in the dumps about life and love.
©2013 Vince Leo