You can people watch for hours and see who’s real and who’s just putting on an act. Marty is like watching one of the real people, with heart, fire, problems and real character. The film and character, Marty, are confident in who they are and in the end, they don’t have to stoop to the levels of their peers. Some of the color films of 1955 are like watching teenagers put on an act for their friends; pathetic and irritating.
You see, Marty (Ernest Borgnine) is a thirty-four year old butcher, the oldest kid in his family and the only one not married. He seems to hear every day that he aught to be ashamed not finding a girl yet. The poor guy has just about had enough.
His gang of bachelor friends aren’t much help to him. They hang around the dinner or house like a bunch of teenage boys. They look at girlie magazines, eat off each other’s plates and can never decide what to do on Saturday night. None of them would make a descent wing-man.
Now, Marty’s problem with girls isn’t just his boyish friends, but it seems that the ladies are just not into him. His stout physique and pug-like features don’t exactly draw the ladies. Sadly, he realizes this all too well and it’s a real discouragement. One of the most revealing and heart-wrenching scenes is when Marty calls up a girl he met a while ago. The camera stays on Marty the whole time and we only here his half of the conversation. We don’t have to hear exactly what she says to know she’s just trying to blow him off, the hurt is all over poor Marty’s downcast eyes and in his voice.
Though he’s obviously depressed at the rejection, Marty’s mother (Esther Minciotti) doesn’t want him to mope around the house this Saturday night. She suggests he go dancing at the Stardust, where his brother-in-law says “it’s full of tomatas.” After a painful argument from Marty, he gives up and goes out, just expecting heartache.
At the Stardust, we meet a girl who seems to be a female Marty. Clara (Betsy Blair), a twenty-nine year old schoolteacher, practically an old maid, is on a blind date. The guy she’s with is so disappointed in her, that he offers Marty five bucks to take her home, so he don’t have to. Marty is appalled at how cold that is and declines, but keeps an eye out to see what happens to her. When poor Clara realizes her date is trying to, she goes out to the roof and cries. Marty can sure relate, so he goes to talk to her and they spend the whole night talking together.
The next day, while Marty is on cloud nine about Clara, everyone else is sour. You see, Marty’s sister and brother-in-law have been having some marriage trouble and they blame it on the mother-in-law, Aunt Cathrine living with them. That day, Aunt Cathrine is moving in with Marty and his mother. To make matters worse, his mother doesn’t care for Clara after their brief encounter, afraid that she will one day kick her out of her own house. Misery loves company and with his friends calling Clara “a real dog” he’s not sure if he should call her up on a second date.
Ernest Borgnine is absolutely brilliant and lovable as Marty. He shows us the heartache and pain of rejection so well that we just want to give him a hug. When he’s found Clara, our heart lifts in celebration with him. The best thing about Marty is that he’s one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. The way he talks to Clara about his parents and his realistic ideas on beauty and marriage is wonderfully insightful and shows how all those color films fail spectacularly at portraying healthy love. That Oscar for Best Actor is well deserved.
Marty is a beautifully simple film about patience, heartache and finding love on real values. The dialogue feels real, never mushy or wooden. Every actor’s face is full of pure human expression. And every shot is thought out beautifully and layered without one detail out of place. Marty is not your typical ridiculous romance novel love story, but we can believe in, smile and feel good about. Even more important, the film is a portrait of Marty in the turning point of his life. And the best part is, Marty is the kind of person who really deserves a happy ending.
“You know, us dogs aren’t really so much of the dogs that we think we are.”