Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti. Dir: Delbert Mann
I may have mentioned before that I don’t like a lot of movies from the 1950’s (I will not go into specifics so much now) and I prefer comedies because I have enough drama in my real life. I don’t much care for war movies or westerns either. Now, Marty isn’t a war movie or a western, but Ernest Borgnine did a lot of war movies and westerns, so I wasn’t a fan. I say all of this because these are the reasons it took me so long to get around to seeing the film, and I only saw it because I had heard for years that I should. And it’s a good thing I did.
Marty isn’t the kind of movie that could have been made any earlier than it was. Technically, it was made earlier than it was- as a TV movie, 2 years before. It was the success of the small-screen story that prompted a big-screen redo. The thing about movies up to this point is they were always extreme. Extremely glamorous, or extremely seedy, or extremely tragic, etc. Movie makers had a habit of making films that took people out of reality (which is absolutely fine- see first paragraph) and presented them with something to either fantasize about or fear. This is why so many movies of the 30’s are about rich people (fantasize) or organized crime (fear). The people of the 30’s needed to be transported from their day to day lives, which, I am told, were depressing.
On into the 1940’s the movie makers determined that we needed more sophisticated fantasy and fear, and a huge rally of support for the men at war. So audiences were given more stories about glamorous,upper-middle class (rather than flat-out rich) people who had jobs, though were rarely shown working. The organized crime stories mostly turned into mysteries. The kind of stories that the movie industry would have you believe could happen to you. Or someone you knew. With so many people involved in the war, either directly or indirectly, Hollywood took it upon itself to be cheerleaders. It would appear, in fact, that movies were becoming more down to earth, but still hovering ever so slightly above ground. The 50’s continued the trend of becoming more reflective of real life, but still, just not quite there. Not realistic.
Except for Marty.
Marty is the name of the character played by Ernest Borgnine, a 34 year old butcher who is ugly, stocky, socially awkward, and lonely. His social awkwardness is due mostly to his concerns about his appearance. He’s a very nice guy, but he just can’t talk to women outside the butcher shop, where he has confidence in his work. At the point we meet him, he lives with his mother (Esther Minciotti) and has essentially accepted that he will never find love or get married. He is constantly asked, “Why aren’t you married?” “Why don’t you get married?”, as though not getting married was a choice that he made and if he changed his mind, he could just drop by the spouse store on the way home from work one day. His mother pressures him to go to a dance hall one night and there he meets a plain woman (Betsy Blair) whose blind date walks out on her. Positive things happen, but not without the nuisance of negative things, and then it’s over.
When I first saw the film, I identified so strongly with Marty because I have always been unusual looking, and will never not be. I am not the one walking down the street that people stop and admire. They might stop and stare, but it is very unlikely that they will admire. The guys I liked never liked me. I did manage to get married, but he abused me, and after way too long, I left. I’ve had a few other relationships, but mostly with chemically addicted guys who consumed me, or tried to, so, given the kind of guys I am able to attain, I’ve given up. I’ll stick with my dead celebrities, thank you very much.
I had felt for years that pretty people need to see Marty so they can understand what life is like for the rest of us. The rest of us being those who don’t come from money, aren’t blessed with connections, don’t have perfect hair, aren’t pretty, aren’t refined with the social graces that make one acceptable to take home to mom, but are fine to take home to bed. Us.
It has been shown time and time again that the pretty people have the advantages. They get the better jobs and make more money. They are more likely to get help when they need it. They are more quickly forgiven when they do something wrong.
As I prepared to write this recommendation, I remembered that pretty people have feelings too, and even though they don’t resemble Marty (the character) outwardly, they have insecurities which resemble him on the inside. Everyone has some aspect of Marty within them that makes them feel small in the right situations. I don’t mean to sound condescending. I don’t know what it’s like to be anybody but myself, and I’m not one of them. My point is that 100% of the population is not 100% confident 100% of the time, but everyone has a place where they shine, and sometimes it takes a long time to find that place. Or that person that finds them shiny.
And that’s what Marty is about. And that’s why you should see it.