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Masters of Cinema Review: Marty (1955)

"What do you wanna do tonight?"
Marty, Best Picture winner and first ever recipient of the Cannes Festival Palme d’Or, has been restored and re-released as part of Eureka's Masters of Cinema collection. Directed by Delbert Mann, this 1955 classic is a flawed, but endearing romantic drama. Marty (Ernest Borgnine) is a 34-year old butcher who lives with his mother. Customers, friends and family alike are constantly pressuring him to get married. The socially awkward and self-conscious Marty is terrified he'll never find the right woman, or indeed any woman willing to settle down with him - that is, until he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a schoolteacher shunned by guys who don't consider her conventionally attractive. Even though it's named after him, Marty isn't really about Marty. It's not even about Marty and Clara as a couple. The two form an instant connection, but they don't spend a whole lot of time together - just enough to suggest that it might work out. The main thrust of the story is showing how far people can act due to peer pressure or loneliness. There are a fair number of subplots concerning minor characters, all of which set up how and why they try to convince Marty to give up on Clara in the movie's final stretch. Marty's mother, worried he'll marry and leave her by herself. Marty's cousin, telling him to swear off marriage because he's been fighting with his wife a lot. Marty's best friend, desperate not to lose his buddy, even if it means being stuck doing nothing and going nowhere. Even Marty himself, under a mountain of pressure to just get married already, ends up going too fast with Clara in a brief, but an unsettling moment. Borgnine does a great job at conveying the desperation bubbling under Marty's good-natured exterior. Where the movie falls short is in the execution. Even by melodramatic standards it's quite on the nose with how it tackles its themes. Characters verbalize and stress certain points to pretty ridiculous levels at times. The subplots eat up too much of movie's runtime, even when you take into account how important their payoff is. As mentioned, this isn't really a story about Marty and Clara's romance, but the fact the two spend so little time together does stick out like a sore thumb - especially since Marty definitely hogs the spotlight, making it difficult for Clara to make much of an impression. It just feels odd that Marty's mother is more fleshed out and has a bigger screen presence than Marty's love interest. It comes across as if the material added to the original teleplay buffed up the subplots and side characters without expanding upon the rest of it. There is some interesting stuff to unpack there, but the whole thing feels lopsided because of it. Marty is a heartfelt, low-key character study that's a little rough around the edges. It has good performances and a pretty powerful, memorable ending. The good bits are more than good enough to stand the test of time, and at a breezy 90 minutes, it makes for a fairly effortless and enjoyable viewing. SPECIAL FEATURES - A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard - The original 1953 teleplay MARTY (51 min) - Archival interviews with Delbert Mann and the cast of the original teleplay (Rod Steiger, Nancy Marchand and Betsy Palmer) - Original theatrical trailer presented by Burt Lancaster
  • Good performances
  • Powerful ending
  • Interesting themes
  • Subplots eat up too much of the movie's runtime
  • Dialogue too on the nose at times


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