Thursday, February 13, 2014

Marty (1955)

Director: Delbert Mann                                  Writer: Paddy Chayefsky
Film Score: Roy Webb                                  Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Starring: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti and Joe Mantell

The winner of the Academy Award for best picture of 1955, Marty is terrific story of New York and the life of a regular guy who just wants to be happy. It’s easy to see why it won the Oscar because it’s delightful. There’s such an honesty about the film that doesn’t have anything to do with high drama or exaggerated story lines. In many ways it feels like a European film. The whole story takes place over the course of two days, and it is solely about the relationship between Ernest Borgnine and the people in his life, including one very special Saturday night when he meets Betsy Blair and they fall in love. That’s it. Of course it’s set in New York City and that gives the film a particularly American slant, but the story itself, by the brilliant Paddy Chayefsky, is transcendent and also earned him one of this three Oscars that year.

Borgnine plays a mild-mannered butcher, Marty, who lives with his mother and hangs out at the local bar watching baseball. But he’s thirty-five and everyone keeps pestering him about why he isn’t married yet. Well, it’s not for lack of trying, but he keep getting the brush off from girls and has given up trying. When Esther Minciotti, his mother, pushes him to go to a ballroom one Saturday night he meets a fellow sufferer, Betsy Blair, and their shared experiences immediately pull them together. At the same time his mother’s sister, Augusta Ciolli, is driving her daughter in law crazy and so she has to move in with Borgnine and Minciotti. Now, just as Borgnine starts to think of actually getting married, everyone who was pushing him before realizes how their lives and relationships with him will change and suddenly they want him to put on the brakes.

Ernest Borgnine is perfect for the role. He’s big and sweet, and took home the Oscar for his performance. Betsy Blair is painfully shy, but she certainly lights up around Borgnine and earned a nomination herself. The two old women, Minciotti and Ciolli are spot on as the ethnic mothers with nothing else in their lives but the children. As with all older films there are players in bit parts who now stand out because of their subsequent fame. One of the patrons of the bar in the opening of the film is none other than Frank Sutton who will forever be associated with his role of Sergeant Carter in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Jerry Paris, whose best-known role was probably that of Ensign Harding in The Caine Mutiny, plays Borgnine’s cousin. And in the ballroom scene a little later on is the great Jerry Orbach cutting a rug as one of the dancers, right after Borgnine and Blair go out for coffee.

The film began its life as an hour-long television drama in 1953 starring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand in one of her earliest roles. Delbert Mann was the director and he was brought onboard for the expanded film version where he was awarded an Oscar for his work. Chayefsky says he set out to write the most ordinary love story in the world and he certainly succeeded. But in creating his “ordinary” world he struck a chord with audiences. Minciotti and Ciolli as well as Joe Mantell as Borgnine’s best friend reprised their roles in the film version, and the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards altogether, taking home four. Marty is a delightful film that is very much a snapshot of the time, and is all the more endearing because of it. It defies the conventions of Hollywood filmmaking and was rightly rewarded because of it.

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