Marty (1955)

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

You know a Marty. I guarantee it. Sixty three years since Delbert Mann’s picture became one of the breakout hits of 1955, and you still know a Marty. That slightly overweight guy in the club, standing on the sidelines with his beer watching slicker, more confident men pick up the attractive young women. Would he be as kindly and sweet natured as Ernest Borgnine’s titular character? Who knows? But you know a Marty, or you knew one at some point. Which is why this film, unexpectedly, resonates across the decades.

Originally a TV play from the great Paddy Chayefsky, who would later go down in greater legend for his Oscar-winning screenplay for 1976’s powerful satire Network, Marty was also originally directed by Mann in that same broadcast from 1953, starring a young Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand rather than Borgnine and Betsy Blair in the cinematic version. The script, nonetheless, remains much the same; set over one day, Marty is a heartfelt examination of loneliness in sprawling post-war New York City, with a disenfranchised generation of men and women struggling against the social constraints of expectation when it comes to their gender roles.

Borgnine won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Marty (the film itself also won Best Picture) and it feels earned; his performance is wonderful. Marty is a good man, a kind soul, but someone frustrated by what he conceives to be his lack of looks, his low social status job (as a butcher), and the pressures of his ageing Italian, traditional mother (played by Esther Minciotti, who also appeared in Mann’s TV play in the same role) and family to get married, or his gang of thirty-something, single buddies who still want him to be in the ballrooms every Saturday night looking for girls. Borgnine infuses Marty with a naturalism, a complex range of emotions in regards to all of these influences, which engenders him almost immediately to the audience.

Marty was likened by many as an American version of Italian neo-realism, and given around the same time we had pictures such as On the Waterfront with naturalistic, Method actors such as Marlon Brando, or even powerful TV plays with character actors doing incredible work such as 1957’s 12 Angry Men, this makes sense. Chayefsky’s writing fits alongside contemporaries such as Reginald Rose or Rod Serling, in how it manages to be about real people in real, grounded situations; these aren’t the dashing romantic fantasies of Golden Age Hollywood. Borgnine or Blair are never going to be pin-ups.

That, however, is precisely the point. Marty eschews the traditional archetype of the Clark Gable romantic lead in favour of the earthy, very human and fallible Borgnine, touching on ideas about life and love which genuinely ring true over half a century later. Modern society still has a judgement problem about single men and women of ‘a certain age’; Marty is 34, while Blair’s Clara is 29, and certainly in the 1950’s questions would have been raised as to why they weren’t ‘off the shelf’ by then.

Read the rest here.

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