Thursday 17 September 2020

Movie Review: Marty (1955)

A genial romance, Marty is a small-scale search-for-love story with a big heart.  

In the Bronx, Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) works at a butcher shop. A batchelor at 34 years old with a stocky build and not blessed with good looks, Marty still lives with his mother (Esther Minciotti). He is good-natured and popular among his pals, including best friend Angie (Joe Mantell), but as the only one of six siblings not yet wedded, Marty is constantly pressured to find a girl and get married.

Reluctantly spending a Saturday night at the local dance hall where singles go to mix, Marty meets 29 year old school teacher Clara (Betsy Blair). She believes herself plain looking, but after spending the evening dancing and talking, both Marty and Clara start to believe they can still find love.

Produced by Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Delbert Mann, Marty is one of Hollywood's earliest flirtations with low-budget, well-produced, small-scale arthouse projects focusing on a human-scaled story without the distraction of star power. The film draws its strength from street level neighbourhood locations, bona fide characters, and an intimate quest for companionship over one weekend.

With Ernest Borgnine finding the role of a lifetime, Marty is an unforgettable character. Helpful, sensitive, family oriented and self-aware, he is everyone's ideal next-door neighbour. But a somewhat portly butcher is not a natural magnet for the ladies, and for all the pressure directed his way to get married, Marty is starting to believe he will remain a batchelor. His surprise at finding Clara translates into a long night where he cannot stop talking, propelled by the exciting potential of a different future.

Chayefsky animates Marty's family and neighbourhood with people and places emitting genuine familiarity. A major sub-plot features Marty's cousin Tommy (Jerry Paris) and his wife Virginia (Karen Steele) as new parents suffocating under the same roof as Tommy's mother Aunt Catherine (Augusta Ciolli). The difficult process of convincing Catherine to relocate and live with her sister Mrs. Piletti is a trigger for serious conversations about mothers' dedication to their families and the painful process of separating from grown children.

Outside the house, Marty's social life is also portrayed with realism drawn from the suburban setting, where guys get together and waste away the night indifferently debating their mundane options to waste away the night.

Marty has to reconcile his feelings towards Clara with all the incoming signals from his mother (Clara is not Italian) and his friends (Clara is not a beauty). The butcher has to separate the gristle from the meat, and measure his optimal cut.

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