I cannot believe that I am such a fan of old movies. Prior to beginning this Oscar Best Picture challenge I had seen a handful of old films but not enough to say for certain that I love old movies. It is now time however to make that statement. There are certain aspects of life that old movies can capture that modern day movies easily overlook, a charm and glamour that is now rare. What I just wrote should NOT be translated to “oh times were just simpler” because that is not what I’m saying. There are aspects of classic cinema that is lacking from films today that I have found I really enjoy just like there are aspects of the film noir genre I enjoy that are lacking from other genres The classics have become their own genre, a genre that includes the 1955 Oscar Best Picture winner Marty.
Marty is the story of Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine), a 32-year old, single butcher living at home with his mother Mrs. Piletti (Esther Minciotti). With all of his younger siblings married, Marty gets a lot of flack from his mother and her friends for not being married himself. A man who thinks of himself as fat and stupid, Mary is so used to the constant rejection he suffers week after week that he is about ready to give up. After much badgering from his mother, Marty begrudgingly goes out on the town for the hundredth time with his best friend Angie (Joe Mantell). In a heartbreaking scene the audience watches as Marty sits at a dance hall not asked to dance and rejected by the few girls he does ask to dance. We see the rejection Marty faces and can see that it really is breaking the poor man’s spirit. The most painful part of the situation is the fact that Marty is a very nice, charming man but women won’t give him enough of a chance to get to know him. The night seems like a bust until Marty’s ability to be a nice guy gives him the chance he deserves.
Clara (Betsy Blair) is a shy, young, lonely teacher who rarely goes out. Convinced by her friend to go on a blind date, Clara arrives at the dance parlor with her friends, who are a couple, and her date. After seeing her, Clara’s date determines she is a “dog” and spends the evening trying to get rid of her. At one point he offers Marty money to go home with Clara so he can pick up somebody else. Appalled, Marty refuses so Clara’s date tires it with another man. When Clara figures out what is happening she gets upset and Marty goes to check if she’s alright and the rest is history. Even though they are considered a “dog” or stupid or fat, Marty and Clara realize that those things don’t matter. What matters is that they enjoy each other’s company. After dancing the two go out and spend the entire evening together, making plans to call each other and meet up the next day.
While the film quickly builds to a happy ending, complications arise the next day. As if they had planned it, all the people in Marty’s life suddenly decide to make his possible relationship difficult. Marty’s recently married cousin Tommy (Jerry Paris) and his wife Virginia (Karen Steele) are tired of living with Tommy’s mother, Marty’s Aunt Katherine (Augusta Ciolli). Infuriated that she is being put out and sent to live with Marty and his mother, Katherine tells Mrs. Piletti that when sons get married, all they do is abandon their mothers. Suddenly terrified that Marty will abandon her, Mrs. Piletti begins to try and convince Marty not to call Clara. Meanwhile Tommy and Virginia are fighting because Katherine is mad at Tommy for kicking her out of the house. This leads Tommy to tell Marty to stay a bachelor as long as possible. Angie, whom Marty ditched the night before, becomes jealous that Marty is moving towards a relationship. Angie attempts to convince Marty that he can do better than a “dog” like Clara and attempts to get him to ditch her. The entire film takes place in two days. The first day allows us to get to know the characters and ends with the first date between Marty and Clara. The second day consists of Marty trying to figure out how to proceed after the successful first date.
Though the overall message of the film is a pretty basic one, the film uses lovable characters to deliver the possibly overused point. The easiest way to state the message is simply the fact that outer beauty is not all that matters. Though “fat and dumb”, Marty is a charming lovable man and though she is considered a dog, Clara is a wonderfully intelligent person. Once Marty and Clara can get past what other people think, they realize what a wonderful time they had together.
Beyond simply winning the 1955 Oscar for Best Picture, Marty pulled in three more awards. Ernest Borgnine earned a well deserved Best Actor win and director Delbert Mann won for Best Director. Just to prove that it was a well rounded, well done film Paddy Chayefsky also won for Best Writing. Going up against Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Picnic, the Rose Tattoo and Mister Roberts, I believe that Marty deserved its best picture win. I would give the film an 8 out of 10. I thought there were a few holes in the dialogue but overall, this was an entertaining film with some great performances.