Release Date(s)1955 (July 19, 2022)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Marty is one of the first successful films adapted from television. Writer Paddy Chayefsky expanded his 1953 teleplay, which was broadcast on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse with Rod Steiger as the title character, co-starring Nancy Marchand. Delbert Mann, who directed the TV version, also directed the film, which won Academy Awards for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is a 34-year-old bachelor of Italian descent who works as a butcher and lives in the Bronx with his mother (Esther Minciotti). He’s heavy-set and plain-looking, but a kind-hearted man. He leads a dull life, hanging around on weekends at neighborhood beer taverns and visiting dance halls with best pal Angie (Joe Mantell) to check out the female attendees. His friends are shallow and spend hours asking each other “What’ll we do tonight?” Marty tries to line up dates for himself but has little luck.
His mother’s sister, Catherine (Augusta Ciolli), has been living with her married son, driving her daughter-in-law crazy, so Marty’s mother persuades her to live with her and Marty and give the young couple some privacy. Aunt Catherine sees the negative in everything and isn’t timid about speaking her mind. She talks about aging as “the bad years” when no-one needs you and cautions her sister that when Marty gets married, she’ll be alone.
A second sub-plot involves Marty having the opportunity to purchase the butcher shop where he works and become his own boss and entrepreneur. This would be a big step, financially and commitment-wise, and he’s not sure if this is the right move for him or not.
At a local ballroom one evening, Marty meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a plain 29-year-old school teacher who’s just been dumped by her date. Feeling sorry for her, Marty asks her to dance. Initially shy and hesitant with each other, the two open up. Clara is warm, vulnerable, and socially awkward but soon feels comfortable with Marty and there’s a mutual attraction. Marty’s humdrum world has been illuminated and his happiness shows in his smile, his gait, and his self-confidence.
But rather than be happy for Marty, his mother and his friends point out why Clara is wrong for him. Angie and friends refer to her as a dog, thinking only of her appearance. His mother, having had negative thoughts drummed into her head by Catherine, suggests that because Clara is a college girl, “she’s one step from the gutter.” Now Marty has doubts. Should he listen to his mother and his friends, or follow his heart?
Marty is a small film that deals with lower middle class folks. Their problems are not the type you find in historical dramas or romantic melodramas, but Chayefsky gives them a simple dignity that is both authentic and touching.
Borgnine is outstanding as the title character. He has an Everyman look and manner. His Marty is congenial, friendly, and liked by his neighbors and friends. It’s women that stymie him, and his self-image has suffered. With his family asking, “Marty, when you gonna get married?” and knowing he’s not exactly a Lothario, Borgnine makes us feel how sadly resigned to loneliness Marty has become. When Marty meets Clara, Borgnine brims with joy, and the difference between the downcast fellow we see initially and the upbeat guy he becomes is a delight. Prior to “Marty,” Borgnine typically played rough types and thugs. Just three years earlier, he was Frank Sinatra’s tormenter in “From Here to Eternity,” so seeing him in such a sensitive role is quite a contrast.
Betsy Blair is not the "dog” Marty’s buddies regard her as, but she’s excellent at conveying an introverted young woman who wants exactly what Marty does—companionship and a kindred spirit. Borgnine dominates the scenes with her, but her reactions to his motor-mouth chatter make clear that she genuinely enjoys his company.
Esther Minciotti and Augusta Ciolli, as the sisters, are both perfect. Minciotti conveys warmth and love, both for Marty and her not-always-pleasant sister. Many of us have an Aunt Catherine in the family—the person who sees clouds when there’s sunshine—and Ciolli plays the role admirably. These are real people, not merely plot points. Jerry Paris and Karen Steele play Catherine’s son and daughter-in-law, always arguing about their lack of privacy and how to cope with Catherine’s presence in their small apartment.
Marty was shot by director of photography Joseph LaShelle on black-and-white 35 mm film with spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and released in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and 1.85:1. The 2014 Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics included the film in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio only, whereas this new Blu-ray release—taken from a brand new 4K master—contains both the 1.37:1 and 1.85:1 presentations. The cinematography has a natural look, especially in scenes at Marty’s home, the bars, and the Stardust dance hall where Marty meets Clara. The opening credits sequence shows bustling Arthur Avenue, a major street in the Italian section of the Bronx. Most outdoor scenes are shot at night in Bronx locations, which avoids back lot sets and gives the film authenticity. Marty was made at a time when it was still common for entire films to be shot at studios. Make-up and costumes for Betsy Blair are designed to downplay her natural good looks. The photography intentionally avoids sentimentality and shows a crowded ballroom with dancers, spectators, “operators,” and employees in close contact. The set design makes clear that the furniture in Marty’s home was chosen for comfort rather than style. The home reflects the lives of the modest people who live there. Costumes are appropriate to the characters. Director Delbert Mann opened up the story with several locations and a number of outdoor scenes.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. Borgnine and the rest of the cast don't attempt a regional New York (Brooklynese) accent, but Esther Minciotti speaks with just a hint of an Italian accent. Augusta Ciolli speaks slowly and deliberately with no trace of an accent. The score by Roy Webb avoids undue sentimentality, allowing the actors and the script to do their job. The jaunty title song by Harry Warren is sung by a chorus at the end, when the cast is repeated. An orchestral version is heard under the opening credits. The sound mix is particularly effective at the Stardust ballroom, where dialogue, ambient crowd noise, and music are heard simultaneously.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
- Marty Trailer (2:59)
- The Lost Weekend Trailer (2:08)
- The Apartment Trailer (2:20)
- In the Heat of the Night Trailer (2:48)
- Separate Tables Trailer (2:27)
- Fitzwilly Trailer (2:33)
- The Pink Jungle Trailer (2:42)
Entertainment journalists and authors Bryan Reesman and Max Evry conduct a pleasant, informative commentary, noting that not many films have been shot in the Bronx. They identify specific locations, including the butcher shop where Marty works and Clara’s apartment building. They discuss in detail the original 1953 TV version of Marty, a 51-minute production. Chayefsky was inspired by a sign he saw in a dance hall urging women to dance with the men who ask them because “men have feelings, too.” He had to expand the story to feature-film length without making it seem needlessly padded. Borgnine’s performance is compared to the original Marty, Rod Steiger. During rehearsals, Steiger was so moved by the material that he would cry, which he wasn’t supposed to do during the broadcast. Borgnine is less intense and comes off as more easy going. Nancy Marchand was the TV Clara. She went on to star in the TV series Lou Grant and The Sopranos, and in the film, The Naked Gun. The scope of the film of Marty is greater than the original TV version. Marty is compared to the Tony Manero character in Saturday Night Fever and the Bobby character in Stephen Sondheim’s Company. The film deals with toxic masculinity. In the TV version, the sense of social conformity is stronger. Because of the Production Code, more sensitive material had to be skirted or artfully treated. Delbert Mann worked with Paddy Chayefsky many times. An overview of Chayefsky’s life and career is provided. Apart from Marty, his best-known screenplays are The Bachelor Party, The Catered Affair (starring Ernest Borgnine as an Irish New York cab driver), Middle of the Night, The Hospital, and Network. Chayefsky is “one of the shining lights of American drama.”
In his depiction of Bronx life surrounding Marty, Chayefsky provides a gentle but real and unadorned picture of a social pattern. A whining aunt makes herself difficult to live with because of her self-pity. Marty’s mother becomes fearful of being left alone at the first inkling that Marty has found a girl he might want to marry. And Marty’s pals fail to feel good for Marty and instead tear down the first girl he’s really cared for. With its humanity and honesty, the film offers a heartening slice of life.
- Dennis Seuling