Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Marty (1955)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles's computer.

Ernest Borgnine's passing reminded me that I had never seen Marty, the romantic drama for which he won a Best Actor Oscar. Adapted from the made-for-tv film, it follows the title character through one eventful weekend. He is a 34-year-old butcher with a lot of siblings, all of whom are now married, while he lives as a bachelor with his mother. Marty has gone out every Saturday night for years hoping to meet a nice girl, but this weekend he's realized he may never meet anyone, and should just stop trying. His equally miserable friend Angie (Joe Mantell) convinces him to go out to a dance hall, where he befriends Clara (Betsy Blair), a quiet schoolteacher who's been abandoned by her date. Meanwhile, Marty's mother (Esther Minciotti) must convince her sister to move out of her son's house, where she is interfering in his new married life.

A simple, quiet film that focuses intently on character and minute details of daily life, Marty is a singularly beautiful experience that manages to be equally depressing and heartwarming. What strikes me is its almost extreme normalcy: these people are totally regular people, no glamor, no special talents, no crazy schemes. They have open, honest conversations about their hopes and experiences. I think it's one of the most straightforward films I've seen, and I really liked that about it. There aren't many "big" moments in the story, just a series of small, intimate scenes and conversations that are lent weight by the underlying sadness of these characters and the strengths of the actors' performances. Borgnine embodies the title character so effortlessly, a depressed working man with big hands and a bigger heart, watching everyone around him move on with their romantic lives and clinging to the possibility of buying ownership of the butcher shop as a step toward self-empowerment. Betsy Blair is also excellent as Clara, a shy and self-effacing woman whose intelligence and progressive nature have likely turned away potential suitors (some characters would have you believe it's her looks- the amount of times the word "dog" was used made me want to punch someone- but she is just a pretty lady with an unfortunate haircut!). She just seems so relieved to have found a respectful, decent human being in Marty- it's a testament to how awful so many people are. Marty and Clara have so many cute, unsure interactions, it's great.

The subplot about Marty's mother and aunt is actually pretty interesting, taking characters that could easily be turned into stereotypes for the sake of comedy and instead making them sympathetic, if still kinda funny. Aunt Catherine is a whiny, crotchety grandmother (though she's only in her 50's) with aches and pains and a lot to say about how her daughter-in-law runs her own household. It is clear she is reacting against her own sense of futility and uselessness, seeing herself replaced in her son's life by his wife, and she warns her more sensible sister (Marty's mother) about the perils of seeing your children off and married. The societal role of an aging, widowed woman is an interesting theme to explore, especially for 1955, and it's handled pretty well. The older ladies believe their lives should revolve around their children, while young upstart Clara thinks they should be able to distance themselves from their married children's private lives, and perhaps get a hobby. Makes sense to me, but I know it seems a drastic change to Marty's mother and aunt, both widowed immigrants who've seen enough loss in their lives.

Marty is just a lovely film, through and through, tinged with sadness but never resorting to melodrama. Its characters are fleshed-out and relatable, and there are plenty of bright, funny moments that keep things light. I loved the dialogue's directness, and of course the performances from everyone involved.


Pair This Movie With: At different points I was reminded of two of my favorite classic films, The Apartment and The Shop Around the Corner. Both are sort of sad romances about regular people, plus Betsy Blair's voice sounds just like Margaret Sullavan's!

1 comment:

  1. Love this one too. You alluded to one of my favorite moments: when his mom goes over to the aunt's house to talk her out of living with her son and his wife. They both sit down, in their house dresses and buns, complain about all their aches and pains and how old they are, and then the aunt says she is 55. WHAT???