Marty (1955): United States – directed by Delbert Mann

Not rated by the MPAA – contains derogatory terms for women, including “tomatoes,” “hatchets,” and “dogs”

Marty is often labeled among the least deserving Best Picture winners, and rightly so.  Ernest Borgnine’s acting is sufficient but somewhat overstated; Marlon Brando’s explosive method acting, seen earlier in the decade in films like On the Waterfront, rendered Borgnine’s attempts archaic and forced.  The melodramatic story moves slowly and ploddingly, making the belabored themes all the more difficult to swallow.

Despite its obvious flaws, Marty is not a bad film.  There are a number of sweet moments, most of them revolving around Marty’s character.  Marty (Borgnine) is a good-natured, chivalrous gentleman, the last unmarried child of Mrs. Pilleti (Esther MInciotti).  He is 34, works as a butcher, and is rather large and ugly.  He’d be the first to admit it; even his father was ugly.  He has trouble with the girls.  His friends keep using him to keep the “squirrels” they pick up happy.  They use him to score with their own tomatoes, the ones they continually attempt to pick up at the Stardust Ballroom.

Marty is a man of few ambitions.  He has given up any hope of getting married, as he is far too ugly to attract any tomatoes.  He wants to buy the butcher shop he’s been working at ever since he was forced to work to support the family, but fears competition from the rising supermarket industry.  He has vague plans for forming a large grocery store of his own, and perhaps branching out, but these are just dreams.

His luck finally seems to change one day, down at the Stardust Ballroom.  A rather homely girl has been brought there by her date, but he soon runs into another, more attractive, lady friend.  Desperate to ditch his date he offers Marty $5 to take her off his hands.  Appalled, Marty refuses.  When the lady is eventually handed off to another man, she becomes distressed and storms off.  Marty finally makes his move, finding another lost and broken soul with whom to connect.

The girl’s name turns out to be Clara (Betsy Blair).  She is actually kind of cute, but Marty is more interested in talking with her.  He talks at her all night long, and the two of them eventually connect, both being relatively unattractive and often passed over by members of the opposite sex.  When he brings Clara home to meet his mother, things become more complicated.  Mrs. Pilleti becomes worried, after seeing the example set by Marty’s cousin (who lives with his wife and mother in a small apartment), and fears that Marty will be wanting to move away with Clara and forget about his dear mother.

The movie progresses through the melodrama rather languidly.  There are occasional sweet moments, particularly when Marty and Clara go out on the town, but too many contrived obstacles give them problems.  Even Marty’s friends rib him for dating a dog, though he eventually makes the right decision.  The primary message seems to be that it is okay to be ugly, but the film never really talks about how it is “what’s on the inside” that should count.  Perhaps it’s saying that ugly people are people too?

The most humorous element of the film are the misogynistic terms thrown around by practically all of the men, save Marty.  Women in general are tomatoes, an unattractive woman either a hatchet or a dog, and a fifth wheel on a date is a squirrel.  The constant use of these terms is rather hilarious, but it is a credit to Marty’s character that he treats womenfolk with more respect.

Marty has few strong convictions about any of its themes, and though the characters are somewhat interesting the movie comes across as listless.  Marty is emo in an age before it was acceptable or hip and is generally portrayed as a wussy man.  Clara hardly has a chance to exhibit much character, though she has enough dignity to refuse being passed off on a date.  As a romantic drama Marty is not a bad effort, but it is less than exceptional and most certainly not deserving of a Best Picture Oscar.  There must have been some powerful political dealings going on in 1955, even if it was a lackluster year for movies.

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