Marty, 1955, United Artists. Starring Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair. Directed by Delbert Mann. B&W, 89 minutes.
Kind and gentle Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is adept at handling the female customers in his butcher shop, but awkward and sensitive with ladies in a social situation. The 34-year-old bachelor lives with his widowed mother in the Bronx, and has resigned himself to the possibility he’ll be single the rest of his life.
While socially unskilled, he is a gentleman. When a would-be Casanova dumps his date at a local dance hall one Saturday night, Marty’s sense of right and wrong compels him to approach the abandoned woman, Clara (Betsy Blair), and ask her to dance. That dance leads to a long evening of laughter, conversation and confidences.
Marty, it would appear, has met the girl of his dreams, but his — and her — social awkwardness and fears of being hurt still stand in their way. Add to that the meddling of Marty’s mother, aunt and not-so-well-meaning friends, and Marty has barriers to overcome he isn’t practiced in working through to a satisfactory end. Still, he holds fast to his hopes and dreams.
This film was a remake of a live television broadcast from May, 1953, starring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand in her television debut. Marchand was considered for the same role in the movie, but Blair, with the help of her husband, Gene Kelly, lobbied hard for and won the role. Blair had been blacklisted for her suspected Communist sympathies, but the influence of Kelly, who was immensely popular at the time, was a significant help in getting her the part.
Director Delbert Mann, who first made his mark with live television dramas, also had directed the television broadcast of Marty. He was the first director to win an Academy Award for his motion picture debut. It was 25 years before that achievement would be accomplished again, for Robert Redford and Ordinary People.
In addition to Mann’s award, the film won Best Picture, Best Actor for Borgnine and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay for Paddy Chayefsky, who expanded his original script from the television program for the feature-length film. It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Joe Mantell), Best Supporting Actress (Betsy Blair), Best Art Direction/Set Direction – Black & White, and Best Cinematography – Black & White.
Marty is a sweet and poignant tale of an average, hard-working couple in an ordinary, yet heartrending, situation. Add to the two stars several supporting characters who are well-defined and familiar, facing clear and recognizable dilemmas, and the film’s appeal is timeless. With achingly realistic settings, a fantastic script and understated direction, you have a movie well worth the watch.