Sunday, February 8, 2009

I've never recommended Marty

I'm surprised to discover that I've never recommended the 1955 movie Marty before. It's airing overnight tonight at 12:15 AM ET (that's still Sunday evening in more westerly time zones).

Ernest Borgnine plays Marty, an aging butcher who still lives with his mother. The rest of his siblings have gotten married, but Marty has never been able to find his true love, which is a fact that causes much consternation amongst everybody who knows him. One Saturday night, he goes out to the local dance hall with his friends, who as a bit of a mean joke dump him off with homely, aging teacher Clara (played by Betsy Blair). Of course, you know what's going to happen next: Marty and Clara are just bound to fall in love. But, even though there there are a lot of people who want Marty to find love and get married, the very same people are skeptical that this relationship isn't going to work.

Marty is such a wonderful movie because it's so real. First of all, the atmosphere is evocative of the New York City of the 1950s in a way that the studio movies of an earlier era weren't. Also, less glamorous people like Marty and Clara were never really depicted honestly in earlier movies. Sure, there were a lot of movies about people down the economic ladder, but even the great ones like Our Daily Bread have an air of Hollywood storytelling about them that Marty doesn't.

The portrayals are also quite good. Everybody around Marty, espeically his friends like Angie, are mean to him without even realizing that they're being mean, thinking instead that they're just engaging in friendly needling. It's something that could easily happen in real life. Likewise the skepticism of the parents, especially Clara's parents. But the film is owned by the romantic leads, especially Borgnine, who does an outstanding job both of making Marty into a man with a warmth that somebody like Clara can see, but also into the social misfit that everybody else around him sees; further, Borgnine shows the viewers the anguish that this causes, but to which everybody (except Clara) around him is oblivious. Marty has some mild sexual references (the male characters have a natural interest in hot women), but no bad language, nudity, or violence, or special effects. In short, it's a film for those of us with grown-up sensibilities who want something intelligent that will engage our brains instead of our reflexes. It's well worth watching, and it's also available on DVD.

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