Combustible Celluloid Review - Marty (1955), Paddy Chayefsky, Delbert Mann, Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli, Karen Steele, Jerry Paris
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli, Karen Steele, Jerry Paris
Written by: Paddy Chayefsky
Directed by: Delbert Mann
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 90
Date: 04/10/1955

Marty (1955)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Professor of Pain

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's certainly hard not to be moved by Marty, even if it's also fairly easy to argue that it did not deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture (especially when you consider that the actual best picture of the year, The Night of the Hunter, didn't even get a nomination). It's a "little picture," shot in black-and-white, set over the course of a day or two, and featuring only a handful of actors and a few locations. According to the IMDB, it cost less than half a million dollars and earned at least three million.

Director Delbert Mann probably never made another movie you've heard of or would care to see, and certainly not anything that even vaguely betrayed any kind of personality. Yet he used New York City lights and sounds as interesting background effects, giving the movie a new kind of "realism" generally unseen in the slick, studio Hollywood entertainments of the day. I wouldn't be surprised if critics at the time compared it to some of the Italian "Neo-Realist" films.

Writer Paddy Chayefsky relied a little too much on repeating dialogue, perhaps knowing that it was going to be tough to fill up 90 minutes on such a slight story. In one scene, some of the characters sit around and talk about what a great writer Mickey Spillane is (no doubt with a little irony on Chayefsky's part). Yet cineastes will remember that Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, which was based on a Spillane novel, came out the same year and is a far better film as well.

But when Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair work their magic in Marty, you won't care. Borgnine was mostly cast as lackeys of bad guys in Westerns; the same year he was also in the great Bad Day at Black Rock and also Nicholas Ray's Run for Cover. Ms. Blair, like her director, never really did anything else of note, but she's so perfectly earnest here it's hard not to think of her as a major talent.

Marty is a butcher whose brothers and sisters are all married. Everyone always gives him a hard time about it, but the fact is that he's just no good at meeting girls. "I'm just a fat, little man. A fat ugly man," he says, snapping while dining with his mother. He has a single pal (Joe Mantell), and their constant refrain is "I don't know, what do you want to do tonight?" Marty goes to the Stardust Ballroom, where he discovers an angry fellow who has been stuck with a "dog," and offers to pay Marty to be introduced to her. Marty refuses, but decides to speak to her on his own terms. They hit it off, and spend the entire night talking.

Meanwhile, we get subplots about Marty's nasty old aunt, who is driving her married son (Jerry Paris) and his sexy wife (Karen Steele) crazy. Marty's mother agrees to put her up in their house, and the two old ladies talk about how horrible it is to get old and how awful it is not to have someone to take care of. Then, the following morning, everyone tells Marty that he can do better than the "dog" he found the night before. The movie vehemently believes in coupling and raising families as if any other option were horrifically unthinkable. (People who haven't coupled "ought to be ashamed.")

Marty is padded with some extra fat, but to be honest, I've seen dozens of romantic movies that were killed by far more plot heaviness. In the grand scheme of things, this movie is still relatively light and simple. And when it comes down to it, it's clear that Borgnine and Blair attacked these roles of a lifetime with a vengeance. It's as if they were both getting something off their chests, pouring their lonely hearts into this film as if their very lives depended on it. They're so astoundingly honest and sweet and touching that anyone with a heart roots for their true love in spite of a lack of movie star looks.

Borgnine won his Oscar and Blair was nominated for hers, and neither of them ever received another single nomination for the rest of their careers. Mann won Best Director (over Elia Kazan, David Lean, Joshua Logan, and John Sturges), and Marty won Best Picture. Chayefsky won for his screenplay and the film received eight nominations in all.

Kino Lorber released the movie on Blu-ray for 2014. The disc includes a trailer hosted by Burt Lancaster, who produced the movie without credit. Seeing the broad, handsome, charismatic Lancaster talking about the film only further illustrates the kind of appeal it must have had in its day, and, frankly -- in this day of tentpoles and franchises and movies aimed at kids -- still does.

In 2022, Kino Lorber released a special edition Blu-ray, which includes the aforementioned trailer, as well as a batch of other classic trailers, and a new commentary track by authors Bryan Reesman and Max Evry, who talk a lot about the New York aspects of the movie. Best of all is the option to watch it either in 1.37:1 or 1.85:1 (the latter fills up a widescreen TV). Kino's 2014 disc offered only the narrower 1.37:1, but the 1.85:1 is the preferred viewing format, although both look very good to me. The audio mix is excellent. Recommended.

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