Marty Review


In many ways, Marty is an atypical Best Picture winner—especially when you consider the time period in which it came out. Bridge on the River Kwai, Ben-Hur, Around the World in 80 Days—all these films are (for better or worse) big, lavish, and epic. Marty, however, is a small-scale romantic comedy. It’s not all that ambitious, but it works. Great acting and endearing characters overshadow most of the film’s minor problems. Is it the greatest Best Picture winner ever? Not by a long shot, but it’s certainly an enjoyable little flick.

Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is an affable butcher in New York City. He lives with his mother and spends most of his time bullshitting with his friends. He’s happy to be a bachelor, having been hurt by women one too many times, but his mother (Esther Minciotti) longs for him to marry and have kids. One night, while out with his friend Angie (Joe Mantell), Marty is approach by a man with a proposition. This man is on a date with a “dog,” and he offers Marty five dollars to take her home for him so he can move on to a more lively gal. He refuses, but sees the woman in question—Clara (Betsy Blair). Seeing just how upset she is, he tries to console her, and the two end up sharing a dance. They talk and find they actually share a lot in common. It’s a wonderful night, but Marty’s friends and mother don’t seem to think Clara is the right girl. Will he let them stand in the way of true love?

Even for its time period, Marty isn’t a groundbreaking story, but screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (of Network fame) presents us with some carefully crafted characters. We like them from the start, but we only really begin to root for them once they get together. It’s a romance that works for them and for us. It’s only one night, but their romance goes through some up and downs. We feel their pain when things appear bleak, and we smile with them when they make a breakthrough.

Of course, we wouldn’t care if it wasn’t for the great performances. Ernest Borgnine (still going strong today in his 90s) won an Oscar for his work. Marty is a loveable loser of the first order, but Borgnine rarely, if ever, goes overboard selling Marty’s “schlubiness.” Betsy Blair’s story off the screen is absolutely fascinating. She was married to Gene Kelly, but her “communist sympathies” got her blacklisted in Hollywood. Only through the influence of her husband did she land this role, and she certainly makes the most of the opportunity. She’s a female version of Marty, only more soft-spoken and in better shape. She’s a sad, lonely woman, who we really want to see happy, and though there aren’t many layers to the character, we feel strongly invested in her prospects for happiness.

To this day, Marty is the shortest Best Picture winner in history (clocking in at only 90 minutes), and its brevity serves it quite well. The characters don’t overstay their welcome, and the film thankfully doesn’t contrive any additional romantic entanglements. Everything that happens in the story feels appropriate. It’s hard to knock a film like that, for few can make the same claim.

Anyone in the mood for a familiar but charming little film will be well-served checking out Marty. Some will undoubtedly pooh-pooh its status as a Best Picture, but it’s an entertaining, heart-warming, and delightful piece of work.

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