"Marty" is a movie where nothing happens. The characters walk around a block and talk for the entire movie, which in its own way is courageous. But talking is not good enough to elevate the fluffy script from paper to film.
Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine in an Oscar winning role) is a man who doesn't have a wife. Thirty-four years old, Italian, still living with his mom, a butcher, and self-described as "a fat, sad, ugly man"—Marty is sure of one thing: he's going to stop trying.
His butchering job is not the best, but it pays the bills and Marty is content with that. What isn't great is the constant heckling he gets from all his customers. They nag him about getting a wife and starting a family. More than one person tells Marty that he should "be ashamed" of himself for letting all his younger siblings get married before him.
All this, plus constant rejection, has led Marty to believe that he was meant to live life as a bachelor. When he shares this thought with his mother, she shouts at him and asks him what he will do if he never has a son. Is children the justification for getting married? Will progeny give life fulfillment?
Marty doesn't think so; he stays at home and commits to his newfound life as a single man.
That, naturally, doesn't last long...in fact, I think it only lasts ten minutes. Marty's friends convince him to go dancing where there are good "tomatoes".
Dragged to the festivities, it's one strike after the other with the ladies for Marty—he makes the comment that whatever women want, he doesn't have.
Then there's Clara (Betsy Blair), a woman who is being taken to the same dance that Marty's attending. She is there with a blind date who is less than enthused by her physical appearance...she is called a "dog" several times. Not ugly, but not the bearer of the typical Hollywood good looks; she is an outcast of sorts. She is perfect for Marty...it's only evident that they will end up together.
Her date, who keeps one-upping himself as a total jerk, sees a beautiful ex and decides to ditch Clara for this woman. Not a complete scoundrel, he goes around and solicits men to spend the night with Clara—offering them five dollars for their services.
Not keen on the idea of this girl being whored out to people, Marty refuses the man's invitation. But every time a person accepts the five dollars and sees the girl, they run. It's quite cruel the way that Clara is treated.
Marty is able to see underneath the not-perfect exterior of Clara and the two strike up a conversation that leads to a moonlit walk.
That's basically all the happens in "Marty"—of course there are characters that I didn't mention like an aunt, two cousins, and the best friend; but you get the idea.
"Marty" tries to be funny...it comes from legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky whose work "Network" is a explosive drama that is one of the best. Going from conspiracies and corrupted TV shows to a movie where a man eats a meal feels like you're loosing momentum...you'd be right if you think this way. "Marty" was the first work that won Chayefsky an Oscar..."Network" wouldn't be made for another few decades.
Here's the problem with the movie—it doesn't commit to the dark side (of the force). It could have been a very effective drama instead of a half-funny comedy. Even if it had been a drama, it couldn't have reached the depression levels that "The Lost Weekend" peaked at.
SIDENOTE: "Marty" is the only official winner of both Best Picture at the Academy Awards and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The other notable exception is "The Lost Weekend" which won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film (a predecessor of the Palme d'Or and considered to be of equal importance).
Women are sexual objects to everyone but Marty, thus cementing the fact that he is our bumbling hero.
Why couldn't he have just stayed a single man? Why did he need to find love or some form of it?
You could argue that "Marty" represents a social class more than a man...you'd be correct up to a point. The movie's social commentaries are gentle but ring true of the era it is creating.
"Marty" is charming, in a dull way. Ernest Borgnine is likable; but he is given some very odd lines.
Remember Chayefsky is the man who gave us "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore"...anything less feels childish.
Yes, "Marty" goes against the typical "romance"—does that immediately make it great?
The movie is easy to hate...then again, it's easy to defend. But I think it's easiest to fall asleep during "Marty".
Score: 2 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones