Rarely does a scene come along in a movie that's so powerful, affective, and ultimately satisfying as the scene at the end of `Marty' when the title character stands up to his shallow friends. Ernest Borgnine plays Marty, in a performance that's so heartwarming, kind and earnest it would take a very cold man not to love him. Marty is an honest butcher, who, at thirty-four years old, has been turned very insecure by the years of being turned away by women because of his looks and nervous manner.
The film spans over two days in Marty's life, starting in the morning of the first day and ending at night in the second. Marty lives timidly but happily as a single butcher, with shallow, sex crazy friends and a mother at home who acts as peacemaker in family battles. The mother (Esther Minciotti) also nags Marty to find a gal and get married, but Marty argues, `Whatever it is woman want, I don't got.'
Eventually she persuades (or forces) Marty to go to a dance ball and find a woman. Marty goes with his friend Angie (Joe Mantell), Angie gets a dance, Marty doesn't. Eventually Marty is confronted with an offer by a slimy man on the dance floor: the man will pay Marty five dollars to take home his date, Clara (Betsy Blair), because he wants to dance with a more attractive woman. Marty refuses, but another man accepts, and it ends with Clara running off crying. With both bravery and sympathy, Marty walks up to Clara and introduces himself.
That starts what's one of the most affective and touching love stories in movie history. Both are insecure because of their appearances Marty because of his weight and Clara because of her gawkiness (which is admirable, any other movie would have Ernest Borgnine romancing someone like Grace Kelly). They are awkward at first, Clara is quiet and Marty rambles, but they soon grow comfortable with each other. They spend a wonderful night together that's fuelled not by lust or sex, but by sympathy, kindness and a deep understanding of each other.
By the end of the night, once Marty drops Clara off at home, he waltzes happily through the street. This scene is joyous and wonderful and powerful, when he hits a stop sign in delight, it's like a ballet.
But things aren't so well the next day. Marty's mother says she doesn't like Clara and is not approving, but we know because of a subplot that she is really just afraid of being alone. Marty's friends are perplexed as to why Marty would want to date a woman so plain and badger him about it. Marty is insecure so he spends the day passively nodding as everyone around him berates his choice for a woman. We saw their time together so we know what a mistake he can make if he doesn't call her like he promised, which makes the ending all the more glorious.
This movie is lovable on all accounts: writing, characters, music, direction, setting and especially the performances. Borgnine, who spent his time before this film playing sadistic killers in B movies, is so irresistible in this film it's hard to imagine him as a mean guy (which makes him a good actor, I guess). His performance is so realized; he's got the character down flat as he effortlessly moves through each scene. He won the only Oscar of his career for his role here, and it was an Oscar well deserved.
The supporting cast is small, but it rounds out fine, with Blair embodying sweetness as Clara and Minciotti perfectly portraying the Italian mother. The others are fine, but in small roles, I find it most perplexing that Mantell received an Oscar nom for his work in this. I was surprised that Jack Lemmon won an Oscar that year for `Mister Roberts', but I guess if this was his competition
`Marty' is a terrific, original chick flick that achieves cinematic grandness in a few scenes. A must-see for everyone, 8/10.
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