UK Release Date: 30th April 2018
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Delbert Mann
Writer: Paddy Chayefsky
Starring: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Joe Mantell
Synopsis: A man in his thirties, constantly pressured to find a girl and get married, forms a bond with a woman at a dance club who is rejected by her blind date and left on her own.
Romance doesn’t need to be complicated. Often, it’s something we all deconstruct and think about so much that it seems to become a big, unknowable beast. In life, and in Delbert Mann‘s Oscar-winning drama Marty, there’s a refreshing simplicity to the growing warmth of a burgeoning relationship. This is a movie that’s about two people who, over the course of one lovely evening, realise that they really like each other. There isn’t much more to it than that, but nor does there need to be – four Oscars, including Best Picture, and the Palme d’Or at Cannes speak for themselves.
The aforementioned two people are the title character (Ernest Borgnine) – a 30-something working in a butcher’s shop – and quiet schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair). The former is the last of six children to get married and is pressurised by his mother (Esther Minciotti) to find someone, while his best friend Angie (Joe Mantell) constantly encourages him to go out in search of a partner. During one evening at a dancing club, he meets Clara, who has been pushed aside by the blind date she came with. They strike up a bond and grow closer as the evening goes on.
There’s very little conflict in Marty. The third act hinges upon Marty’s nervousness around the way his mother and friend respond to Clara, but this is never more than a minor blip in his affections. Drama in this film comes from the interactions between the characters, which are believable and charming. Borgnine and Blair are both entirely natural and relatable as nice people who have found themselves unfortunate in a society that favours big personalities, bold bravado and those who take the romantic plunge.
Mann doesn’t do anything particularly visually ambitious in the movie, though he has the perfect eye for a close-up, whether it’s the comedic slow zoom on Borgnine’s nervous visage as he makes a call to a potential date or the heart-breaking detail of a single tear running down Blair’s cheek. Borgnine’s face, in particular, is a delight for a subtle facial expression, with his eyes closing in exasperation whenever something goes wrong. His performance is bouncy and genuine as a man who is lovely to everyone he meets, but explodes with passion and verbiage when he meets Blair, letting down all of his boundaries in an instant.
It’s in that verbiage, as well as in the performances, that Marty finds its heart. The Oscar-winning script by Paddy Chayefsky, adapting his own 1953 teleplay of the same name, balances its gently building drama in elegant tandem with moments of enjoyable comedy. This is a film without a nasty bone in its body and, rather than leading to a shallow experience, it allows the focus to fall squarely on the central relationship, which is written and played to absolute perfection.
Film scholar Neil Sinyard chips in with an interesting discussion of the film and you can also watch the original teleplay, as well as archival interviews with Mann and the stars of the teleplay.
Pop or Poop?
Sometimes, a romantic drama need only be simple. Marty is a film that, weirdly enough, doesn’t romanticise the notion of love. There’s no spark of love at first sight and no instant physical lust in the relationship between Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair. Instead of those clichés, the movie deals in a relationship that builds as two people simply get to know each other, before tentatively acting on their growing attraction. It’s real, it’s human and it’s perfect.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Marty is available on Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment.