Marty (1955) is the poignant, simple character study of a lonely, unmarried, lovelorn middle-aged, 34 year old son who works as a Bronx butcher and still lives with his love-smothering mother. By film's end, he and another homely 29 year old Brooklyn schoolteacher and female wallflower are liberated - both are triumphant over their respective limitations.
The film's screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky transformed his own original teleplay into a successful major motion picture - and the modest film remains one of the best examples of the cinematization of a television play. (The 48-minute TV comedy-drama was originally presented on NBC-TV's "Philco-Goodyear Playhouse" series on May 24, 1953 as a 60-minute broadcast, with leads Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, during a period now recognized as the "Golden Age of Television." It received zero nominations during the Emmys that year.) It was the only film based on a TV drama to ever win Best Picture.
As a feature film, it was one of the biggest 'sleepers' in Hollywood history, from the independent production company of Harold Hecht and actor Burt Lancaster (Hecht-Lancaster). A modest, black and white film in an era of wide-screen color epics, its critical acclaim and box-office success were phenomenal - its $340,000 production budget yielded over $5 million in gross proceeds. And it was the second Best Picture Oscar winner to also win the Golden Palm (Palme d'Or) at Cannes - The Lost Weekend (1945) was the first.
Marty was nominated for eight Academy Awards - and was awarded four - Best Picture!, Best Actor (character actor Ernest Borgnine in a role quite different from his menacing, sadistic villains or murderous 'heavies' in From Here to Eternity (1953) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)), Best Director (Delbert Mann for his debut film), and Best Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky). It was also the shortest Best Picture winner at 91 minutes.The Story
The film depicts thirty-six hours in the life of the main character: 34 year-old, bug-eyed Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) - an ordinary, burly, heavy-set Bronx butcher. In the opening scene in his butcher shop while Marty waits on a female customer, he tells her how all his younger brothers and sisters are happily married and raising families. A romantic loser all his life, Marty is resigned to listening to people ask when he is getting married:
I met your mother in a fruit store. She said to me, 'Hey, you know a nice girl for my boy Marty?'...What's the matter with you? Now you get married. You hear what I say!...You should be ashamed of yourself.
A second female customer chastises him - he should be ashamed for remaining single for so long: "Marty, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. All your kid brothers and sisters married and got children. When are you gonna get married?" Marty is constantly reminded that he is an incomplete man - single and unmarried.
After work, he joins a number of other single young bachelors hanging out in a local Bronx cafe on a Saturday night - everyone is discussing sports, dating, and pin-up girls in a magazine. In one of the film's most memorable lines, one of Marty's neighborhood male friends in the cafe, Angie (Joe Mantell), asks about how they can fill their lives with something interesting in their very familiar daily routine and frequent exchange:
Angie: What do you feel like doing tonight?
Marty: I don't know, Ange. What do you feel like doing?
Angie complains about their normal Saturday night indecisiveness: "We ought to do somethin'. It's Saturday night. I don't want to go bowling like last Saturday." He suggests that they call up some past pick-up dates: "How about calling up that big girl we picked up in the movies about a month ago up in the RKO Chester?...You know that big girl that was sittin' in front of us, with the skinny friend...Remember her name was Mary Feeny - we took 'em home all the way out in Brooklyn. What daya say? Think we ought to give 'em a call? I'll take the skinny one." Marty seems weary of dating: "She maybe got a date already, Ange...I didn't like her. I don't feel like calling her up." And then they repeat their familiar exchange again, and Angie is fed up with Marty's tired responses:
Angie: What do you feel like doing tonight?
Marty: I don't know, Ange. What do you feel like doing?
Angie: We're back to that, huh? I say to you, 'What do you feel like doing tonight?' And you say back to me, 'I dunno. What do you feel like doing tonight?' Then we wind up sitting around your house with a couple of cans of beer watching the Hit Parade on television.
Angie suggests going to the Stardust Ballroom later that night: "How about goin' down to 72nd Street. See what we could find down there. Ralph says you got to beat them off with clubs." When Marty doesn't reply, Angie chides him: "Boy, you're getting to be a real drag, you know that?" His friend is obviously good-natured, decent, and kind, but unattractive and overweight, lacking social graces and prospects for any other kind of future - especially with romance and settling down with a woman. Marty laments his bachelorhood and is unwillingly resigned to his fate:
Listen, Ange. I've been looking for a girl every Saturday night of my life. I'm thirty-four years old. I'm just tired of looking, that's all. I'd like to find a girl. Everybody's always telling me, 'Get married, get married, get married!' Don't you think I want to get married? I want to get married. Everybody drives me crazy.
Marty is frustrated by his Italian Catholic mother, Mrs. Theresa Piletti (Esther Minciotti). She drives him crazy over his date-lessness and lack of prospects for marriage: "My mother, boy, she drives me crazy." She complains to relatives about Marty's lack of initiative: "He sits around the house all the time. You know a nice place where he can go to get a bride?"
When Marty returns home - where he lives with his widowed mother - he decides to call Mary Feeney as an "old friend." In a telephone attempt at a date, Marty gets the classic brush-off from the potential prospect that he met in a movie theater a month earlier. He reminds her what he looks like ("I'm the stocky one, the heavy-set fella"):
...Oh, hello there. Is this Mary Feeney? Hello, there. This is Marty Pilletti. I-I wonder if you recall me. Well, I'm kind of a stocky guy. The last time we met was in the RKO Chester. You was with a friend of yours, and I-I was with a friend of mine, name of Angie. This was about a month ago - The RKO Chester on West Farms Square. Yeah, you was sitting in front of us, and we was annoying you, and - you got mad and - I'm the fella who works in a butcher shop. Oh, come on, you - you know who I am! That's right, and then - then we went to Howard Johnson's. We had hamburgers. You hadda milkshake. Yeah, that's right. Yeah, well, I'm the stocky one, the heavy-set fella. Yeah, well, I'm - I'm glad you recall me because I hadda pretty nice time that night, and I was wondering how everything was with you. How's everything? That's swell. Yeah, well, I tell you why I called. I was figuring on taking in a movie tonight, and I was wondering if you and your friend would care to see a movie tonight with me and my friend. Yeah, tonight. Why, I know it's a little late to call for a date, but I didn't know myself till - yeah, I know. Yeah, well, what about - well, how about next Saturday night? Are - are you free next Saturday night? Well, what about the Saturday after that? Yeah. Yeah, I know. Well, I mean, I understand that. Yeah. Yeah.
Afterwards, his mother's persistence in finding him a nice Catholic girl to marry results in nagging and pestering questions at dinner. Marty hates his prolonged bachelorhood but he is realistic about his prospects - he would marry if he could find an accepting female who wouldn't reject him ("Whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it"). He explains pain-avoidance to her:
Mrs. Pilletti (serving dinner): So, what are you gonna do tonight Marty?
Marty: I don't know, Ma. I'm all knocked out. I may just hang around the house.
Mrs. Pilletti: Why don't you go to the Stardust Ballroom?
Mrs. Pilletti: I say, why don't you go to the Stardust Ballroom? It's loaded with tomatoes.
Marty: It's loaded with what?
Mrs. Pilletti: Tomatoes.
Marty: (laughs) Who told you about the Stardust Ballroom, Ma?
Mrs. Pilletti: Tommy. [Tommy is Marty's married cousin.] He say it was a very nice place.
Marty: Oh, Thomas. Ma, it's just a big dance hall, that's all it is. I been there a hundred times. Loaded with tomatoes - boy, you're funny, Ma.
Mrs. Pilletti: Marty, I don't want you to hang around the house tonight. I want you to go take a shave and go dance.
Marty: (pleading) Ma, when you gonna give up? You got a bachelor on your hands. I ain't never gonna get married.
Mrs. Pilletti: You're gonna get married.
Marty: Ma, sooner or later, there comes a point in a man's life when he's gotta face some facts. And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it. I chased after enough girls in my life. I-I went to enough dances. I got hurt enough. I don't wanna get hurt no more. I just called up a girl this afternoon, and I got a real brush-off, boy! I figured I was past the point of being hurt, but that hurt. Some stupid woman who I didn't even want to call up. She gave me the brush. No, Ma, I don't wanna go to Stardust Ballroom because all that ever happened to me there was girls made me feel like I was a-a-a bug. I got feelings, you know. I-I had enough pain. No thanks, Ma!
Mrs. Pilletti: Marty -
Marty: No. I'm gonna stay home tonight and watch The Hit Parade.
Mrs. Pilletti: (said with regret) You're gonna die without a son.
Marty: So I'll die without a son.
Mrs. Pilletti: Marty, put on the blue suit, huh?
Marty: Blue suit, gray suit, I'm just a fat, little man. A fat ugly man.
Mrs. Pilletti: You not ugly.
Marty: I'm ugly, I'm ugly, I'm ugly!
Mrs. Pilletti: Marty -
Marty: (He rises, agitated) Ma, leave me alone. Ma, whaddaya want from me? Whaddaya want from me? I'm miserable enough as it is.
To satisfy his oppressive mother - and against his own better judgment, Marty decides to go out with Angie and attend the Stardust Ballroom dance, even though he is convinced that his efforts to meet a girl will end in disaster and "heartache":
All right, so I'll go to the Stardust Ballroom. I'll put on a blue suit, and I'll go. And you know what I'm gonna get for my trouble? Heartache. A big night of heartache. (He sits, eats some spaghetti, and begins to calm down.) Loaded with tomatoes - boy, that's rich.
At the Stardust Ballroom, Marty attempts to dance with a girl from the stag line: "Excuse me, would you care to dance?" She gives him the once-over and quickly rejects him: "I don't feel like dancing just yet." An equally plain girl Clara Snyder (Betsy Blair) is in the process of being rejected at the dance by Herb (Alan Wells), her blind date. (The date's pal had urged that Clara "wasn't especially attractive but she had a good deal of charm.") Disappointed in Clara and anxious to get rid of her by trading her for cash, Herb approaches Marty (after noticing that he is single) and offers him five bucks for taking his date off his hands and escorting her home:
I got stuck on a blind date with a dog. And I just met an old girl I used to know. I was wondering how I'm gonna get rid of the girl I'm with. Somebody to take her home.
Put off by the heartless, mercantilistic proposal, decent-minded Marty refuses: "You can't just walk off on a girl like that." Without hearing any dialogue in the noisy, music-filled room, Marty watches as another man is given the same deal and then led to Clara's table. Clara shakes her head during the conversation and is left abandoned. Clara's date and the other man move past Marty - he overhears their argument over the five dollars:
Herb: In that case, as long as she's going home alone, give me the five bucks back.
Other Man: Look Mac, you paid me the five bucks. The five bucks is mine.
Marty turns and notices the homely, shy, skinny woman all alone at a table in the middle of a crowded room. Clara rises from the table, and feeling lost and humiliated runs straight to an outside balcony. He follows behind and asks the weeping woman for a dance - and then comforts her as she collapses onto his chest.