Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Marty (1955)

Director: Delbert Mann
Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Jerry Paris
Genre: Drama, Romance
Other Nominees: Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Mister Roberts, Picnic, The Rose Tattoo

“Hey, you know a nice girl for my boy Marty?”

“You get married. You hear what I say!...You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“All your kid brothers and sisters married and got children. When are you gonna get married?"

If Marty thought me one lesson it’s that it’s tough to be an aging bachelor in an Italian community! Marty (Ernest Borgnine in as natural a role as I have seen any actor in) is 35, and suffering through a torrent of personal questions regarding his relationship status. When we first meet the butcher in the Bronx, we see a man exhausted by the kind of questions and comments listed above. It does not help that he has just become the only man of his household not wedded, after the recent marriage of his brother. As the patronage, mostly made up of outspoken Italian housewives, ask about the recent wedding they are inevitably moved to asking about Marty’s wedding prospects. He is pleasant enough while answering the questions but you can tell it is an enormous relief when his shift ends and he finds himself at a local bar with two beers and a newspaper spread before him.

The first half of the films deals solely with Marty. It is clear that before any possibility of a love story developing, the directors want us to understand just how alone Marty is, and how far beyond desperate he feels about it. Exhausted after his busy day, he fends off relentless pressure from his friend Tommy (Jerry Paris) to go out dancing for the night, or to do something other than sit in and drink beer. Over dinner with his mother (the brilliant Esther Minciotti) he is again pressured into going out and finding a girl. It is during these interactions that we learn of the sheer hopelessness that Marty feels when it comes to finding love. Marty is trying to accept the fact that he will remain lonely and get on with his life, but with everyone continuing to pressure him and question him he can do very little to escape the misery.

I've been looking for a girl every Saturday night of my life.

Ma, sooner or later, there comes a point in a man's life when he's gotta face some facts. And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it.

And yet, after finally agreeing to go to a dancehall, Marty’s fortunes with women take a turn for the better when he meets an equally alone Clara (Betsy Blair). Marty is a romance but it is absolutely not epic in its scale. The entire movie takes place over these few days in Marty’s life. It gives us just enough time to learn to know his misery, shows us the early glimpses of the love that he and Clara will share, and any dramatic elements of the movie revolve around Marty’s hesitation to act on his instinct. This is not an epic romance, nor is it epic drama. Even at its most depressing moments there is a sense that all Marty wants to do is just get on with things. The movie does not wish to explore the dark potential of human misery. It is just taking a look at some lonely people and in the end it is a simple story of two people who deserve to find each other. And it is precisely this simplicity that makes Marty such an easy film to connect with. With a runtime of 90 minutes Marty is the perfect movie to sit down to in the afternoon. The ending, and particularly the line that Ernest Borgnine speaks right before the camera fades out (I won't spoil it for you), is so full of joy that I challenge anyone to not leave in good spirits!

Next Up: Around the World in 80 Days

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