Friday, April 18, 2014

Marty (Best Picture 1955)

Marty is a change of pace from your usual Best Picture winner. Instead of being a sweeping epic or a huge production, the word that best describes Marty is "intitmate." There are less than a dozen speaking roles, of which only three or four could be considered "main." In fact, the word "character" is appropriate, as this film is nothing but a character study of a middle-aged man looking desperately for love.

Marty is a 31 year old butcher in a small Italian neighborhood in New York City. After all of his brothers and sisters are married, he is left to live with his widowed mother. His customers start to aggravate him with their good-natured "when are you gonna get married?" questions. After he gets off work he hangs out with his buddies, all of them bachelors heading towards middle-age without any serious prospects. Because it's Saturday night all of his friends want to go out, but he knows it will not end well for him. The pressure to find a woman and settle down makes him do things he doesn't want to do: calling a girl he knows doesn't remember him for a possible second date, going to a ballroom stag, putting on a happy face. In the most dramatic scene of the film he breaks down at his mother's newest suggestions to find a girl. He cries out to her, "I'm fat, and I'm ugly. I don't want to be hurt no more!" Still, he realizes that because all he has to look forward to if he doesn't go out is loneliness, he reluctantly agrees to throw himself back into the night.

At the ballroom Marty is approached by a cad to help him dump his unattractive blind date. Marty refuses, but sees the man dump her anyway. Marty watches the girl and recognizes a kindred spirit in Clara. He carefully approaches her. This is the most sentimental part of the film, as Marty and Clara tell each other off-hand compliments like, "You're not *that* ugly," which makes the other one smile. They end up spending their evening together, even going back to Marty's house for some coffee. When Marty tries to kiss Clara, she is afraid that the evening was just a ruse to take advantage of her (literally).  Marty convinces her that he is legitimately interested in her, and she tells him she wants to go slow but would love to go out with him again. Marty's mother comes home and meets Clara, and they have a short discussion. Marty enjoys it, but both women appear to be uncomfortable with the other. Marty takes Clara home, and he ends the evening by promising to call her the next day after church. Marty is on cloud nine.
His happiness is short-lived, however. While Marty has been out with Clara his mother has been spending time with her shrill sister, who was "kicked out" of her son and daughter-in-law's apartment for being too invasive and demanding. Aunt Catherine tells Ma that if Marty finds a girl, Ma will end up being kicked out, too. So Ma, after wanting for so long for Marty to find a girl, is suddenly against Clara, who obviously has a mind of her own. Likewise, Marty's buddies kid him because Clara is "a dog."

The last part of the film is a repeat of the first part: Marty wasting time with his buddies and family wishing for some type of happiness to strike him. In the most heart-breaking scene both Marty and Clara are shown (separately) staring at their telephones; Marty not sure he should call, and Clara gradually thinking that he never will. At the very end Marty realizes that he is wasting his life and calls Clara. When he calls her, both of their faces light up, and the film ends on a happy note.
I'm not embarrassed to admit that I teared up a few times watching this film. First of all, I'm a sucker for scenes in movies or plays where men cry; inevitably, I start to cry, too. To see such a big, strong guy like Ernest Borgnine show such emotion was just painful to watch (in a good way). His performance made me think of all the so-called "unattractive" people whose hearts break on a regular basis.  Borgnine is excellent. He is in nearly every scene and effortlessly carries the film. Right from the start you are rooting for Marty, and the whole film is pleasant to watch because Borgnine makes him so interesting. He won the Best Actor Oscar for this role, and he definitely earned it.

Betsy Blair as Clara is equally good, even though she doesn't have as much to do as Borgnine. When she realizes at the ball room that she has been ditched, it is amazing to watch her try to control herself as she faces another night of loneliness. We don't get to see her back-story, but watching her face during their interactions you can totally imagine that she had similar fights with her father that Marty had with his mother. Her role in the film is to realize what we already know: that Marty is a good guy. We watch her as she takes tentative steps in that direction, only to meet accidental set backs such as his awkward attempt at a kiss. At the end we feel she is starting to fall in love with him, and we hope that they can be happy together.

As I wrote at the top of this review, Marty is not your typical Best Picture. At times it does feel a bit too much like the television special on which it was based. However, for a great "slice of life" drama, you could do a heck of a lot worse than spend an evening with Marty Piletti.

*Academy Award Best Picture of 1955*
Produced by Harold Hecht
Directed  by Delbert Mann
Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

Financial backer Burt Lancaster introduces this film, with some of
the great scenes I mention above. Makes a good trailer for the film.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing
Mister Roberts
The Rose Tattoo
Love is a drama about inter-racial dating starring two Caucasians (Jennifer Jones and William Holden). When I saw it I truthfully did not understand what was going on because I didn't realize that Jones was supposed to be Chinese. Give it a pass. Mister Roberts is the wonderful play about a small ship in the middle of the Pacific War with Henry Fonda as an officer who wants to do more with his Navy career. I can't begin to explain how great this film is. Fonda shares the screen with James Cagney and William Powell; Jack Lemmon won Best Supporting Actor as Ensign Pulver. Picnic is a story of small-town morality starring William Holden and Kim Novak. And I had never heard of The Rose Tattoo, written by Tennessee Williams. It stars Burt Lancaster and this year's Best Actress, Anna Magnani. I've never heard of her, either, so I watched it. It was another intimate character study, this time of a passionate Sicilian trying to hold her life together after the death of her husband. It's interesting and she's very good, but I didn't believe Burt Lancaster was Italian!

1 comment:

  1. Joseph Brian ScottApril 19, 2014 at 7:32 PM

    This was fun to read. I knew the basic story of MARTY but I enjoyed having it fleshed out.