Viddy Well Recommends: Marty
Marty is a bittersweet, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and always realistic comedy-drama. Enormously influential, it spawned Hollywood's interest in smaller scale, prosaic dramas, few of which failed to match its resonance. Incredibly warm, human and oozing from the pores with tenderness, the film was rightfully awarded the Oscar for Best Picture in 1955 and is just as crisp today as it was then.
An unattractive Bronx butcher, Marty (Ernest Borgnine) fears he will never get a girl. Approaching middle-age as a burly, somewhat overweight man who has no illusions about himself or his attractiveness to women, Marty looks forward to just one thing in life -- buying his boss's butcher shop and trying to make a success in business -- and he's even uncertain about that. A gentle, good-natured man, he lives with his mother (Esther Minciotti), a kind but emotionally smothering woman, in a too-large house and spends his time with a small circle of dead-end friends (Joe Mantell, Frank Sutton). One Saturday night he meets his match in Clara (Betsy Blair). But whatever good feelings he has about her are soon threatened by his friends' put-downs of her and his mother's fear of being left alone.
Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning slice-of-life drama originated as a live 1953 broadcast directed by Delbert Mann on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse starring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand. The Hecht-Lancaster movie version, also directed by Mann, replaced the two leads with Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair, but it remains largely intact, telling of 24 very important hours in the lives of two lonely people.
Chayefsky's dialogue is inherently sharp and heartfelt, but Borgnine and Blair make everything so affecting with their chemistry. Borgnine, in particular, is fantastic, but they both elevate Chayefsky’s words and bring them into living, breathing realization through their delivery and mannerisms. There is an authenticity to their performances that seems rooted in the personal, and their backgrounds seem to reinforce that possiblity.
At this point in his career, Borgnine had been typecast as an onscreen tough guy, but Marty allowed him to show another side of himself, and he really wins big as the sympathetic everyman. His effort here is top tier career-wise, next only to his performance in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and earned him the Best Actor Oscar. Blair’s interest in Marxism contributed to her being blacklisted for some time, but Marty marked her comeback, and her performance was critically lauded, earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. So, in a sense, Marty is about a couple of down-on-their-luck “dogs” who win big in more ways than one.
The film really goes to show you that dating was just as defeating in the 50s san-Tinder/technology as it is today. Perhaps some things are just never easy and bring their own hardships, love being one of those them. All about loneliness and the societal pressures surrounding your status, but ultimately saying that love triumphs, Marty takes a “couple of dogs” and proves that there’s more to love than vanity. It’s an important film because it teaches you to reject those outside voices and pressures, whether they come from friends or your family, and to have the courage to do what your heart says is right.
The direction, much like the writing, is simple and precise, giving the film a subtly affecting quality that builds space for the performances to really shine. Mann utilizes sly camera moves to bring us in closer to the characters or further away from them, giving moments of warmth or isolation extra emphasis. Chayefsky's screenplay is fantastic. It overwhelms with its tender sweetness, which sometimes teeters on the saccharine.
Despite its nearly 65 years of age, Marty is still a solid film. Regardless of how you feel initially, its sweetness and charm will grow on you. and it will eventually find a special place in your heart. At a tight 90minutes, it’s a heartwarming breeze that should resonate with anyone who’s ever been lonely or afraid to put themselves out there. Love is a gamble, and it’s scary, but the rewards are great. While we, as the viewer, do not get to spoil in the potential fruit of Marty and Clara’s relationship, we are greatly rewarded by Marty’s sudden outburst of self-realization, which we should all hold true.
Rating: 4.5 dogs outta 5.
What do you think? Were you overpowered by Marty’s sweetness? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!