“I cry a lot too. I’m a big crier…I cry all the time. Any little thing. All my brothers, my brothers-in-law – they’re – they’re always telling me what a good-hearted guy I am. You don’t get to be good-hearted by accident. You get kicked around long enough, you get to be a – a real professor of pain.”
“Marty” (1955) has always had a special place in my heart. It is the story of two ordinary people who fall in love just about the time they’ve almost given up hope of ever finding it. The film won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Ernest Borgnine, and Best Screenplay for Paddy Chayefsky, who is the only writer to have won three solo screenplay Oscars. He won for “The Hospital” (1971) and for perhaps one of the best scripts ever, the freshly prescient “Network” (1976). With “Marty,” which started as a television production starring Rod Steiger, he gives us an intimate, realistic look at the Italian working class in New York City.
“I’ve been looking for a girl every Saturday night of my life. I’m thirty-four years old,” says Marty. “I’m just tired of looking, that’s all. I’d like to find a girl.” Chayefsky wanted to write a love story where the hero wasn’t handsome, and the characters were like the people he knew growing up in The Bronx. He got the inspiration while rehearsing a teleplay at a ballroom where he noticed a sign that said, “Girls, Dance With the Man Who Asks You. Remember, Men Have Feelings, Too.” There’s poetry in the dialogue of these everyday people in this small opera of feelings. There are moments in which you start seeing beauty amongst the mundane. Like when Marty is suddenly hit with the rush of love and is waiting at the bus to stop and then whacks the sign with delight and decides to treat himself instead to a taxi home, rushing into oncoming traffic and grinning to the heavens. He’s almost ready to burst into song.
“I’m just a fat ugly man!” says Marty the butcher to his mother, his frustration reaching a boiling point when he’s confronted with the neighbors’ constant nagging him about not being married. The loneliness in him is palpable as he sits at a cafe with Ange, his best friend, trying to figure out what to do on a Saturday night. They have an absurdist exchange in which they repeat to each other, “What do you feel like doing?” It’s clear they have had this conversation many a time. They’re like Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot or at least for something interesting to happen in their monotonous lives. Since they’re both bachelors they’ve become each other’s primary relationship.
At home, his mother Theresa is confronted with a different type of existential crisis. Her sister Catherine’s recently married son wants her out of the house, and wants her to come live with Theresa and Marty. Catherine points out to Theresa the fate of widows when children marry. “These are terrible years, Theresa, terrible years,” she says. “…It’s gonna happen to you. It’s gonna happen to you! What are you gonna do if Marty gets married? Huh”
Feeling pressured to go out on a Saturday night, Marty heeds his mother’s advice and goes to the Stardust Dance Hall. There, after a sad set of occurrences, he meets a lonely twenty nine year old schoolteacher, who, like Marty, has had her hope shattered too many times. It is at this point that the script, the directing and the acting become so poignant. After dancing, Clara and Marty decide to go out for a walk and a cup of coffee. Through their conversation we start to see a glimmer of optimism and trust. Clara is played beautifully by Betsy Blair who had been blacklisted and campaigned hard to get the part. Borgnine, stocky, and gap-toothed, slowly starts to blossom in front of our eyes. He’s a sweet galoot with a heart as big as Manhattan. He’d been monosyllabic until meeting Clara. “Well, there I go again. I must be driving you crazy,” he says, surprised at the words coming out of his mouth. “Most of the time when I’m with a girl I can’t find a word to say. Well, I’m gonna shut up now and let you get a word in…there I go again.”
But Marty’s mother and his friend Ange dismiss the relationship for selfish reasons and plant doubts in his mind. Both of them would have to deal with their aloneness if Marty’s affair with Clara were to succeed.
In his feature film directing debut, Delbert Mann emphasizes the claustrophobia of their environment. He allows it to open up by the time we get to the ballroom and their walk through New York city. The evocative black and white cinematography is by Joseph LaShelle, who was known for classic film noirs (he won the Oscar for 1944’s ‘Laura”) and for his terrific work in Billy Wilder’s“ The Apartment” (1960).
Marty: “You don’t like her. My mother don’t like her. She’s a dog and I’m a fat, ugly man. Well, all I know is I had a good time last night. I’m gonna have a good time tonight. If we have enough good times together, I’m gonna get down on my knees and I’m gonna beg that girl to marry me.”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Pluto TV and Tubi and to rent on Apple TV+, Google Play, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Microsoft, iTunes, Redbox and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Directed by Delbert Mann
Starring Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell, Frank Sutton, Karen Steele, Jerry Paris, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli
Bringing “Marty” to the Screen
Writer Paddy Chayefsky first made his name in television. He began writing for producer Fred Coe and The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1949 with an adaptation of Budd Schulberg’s Hollywood-set novel “What Makes Sammy Run?” His second Philco script, “The Reluctant Citizen” (1953), was rehearsing in the Abbey Hotel’s ballroom, where the staff was setting up for a Friday night Friendship Club meeting. When Chayefsky noticed a sign reading “Girls, Dance With the Man Who Asks You. Remember, Men Have Feelings, Too,” it gave him the idea for a play about a young woman attending a neighborhood dance like that. As he discussed it with Mann, he decided it would be more interesting to focus on a man in that setting. He then pitched it to Coe with the line, “I want to do a play about a guy who goes to a ballroom.” (Paddy Chayefsky, quoted in Tom Stempel, “Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing.”) He would later say he set out to make “Marty” “the most ordinary love story in the world.” (Chayefsky, “Two Choices of Material,” Television Plays)< Chayefsky created the leading role for his friend Martin Ritt, who would become a director in later years. He even named the role after Ritt. By the time the script was done, however, Ritt had been blacklisted for alleged Communist sympathies. That opened the door for Rod Steiger to play the part. “Marty” aired live May 24, 1953, to glowing reviews. Mann directed a cast that included, along with Steiger, Nancy Marchand, Esther Minciotti, Joe Mantell, Augusta Ciolli, Betsy Palmer, Lee Philips, Nehemiah Persoff and George Maharis. The television play won both the Donaldson and Sylvania awards for Best Drama. Chayefsky had attempted writing for Hollywood in the late‘40s with little success, though he had become friends with agent Harold Hecht. By the ‘50s, Hecht had moved into film production teamed with one of his biggest clients, actor Burt Lancaster. Eager to work with Chayefsky and wanting to produce a film that would be distinct from Lancaster's run of action-adventures, he had Norma Productions, a subsidiary of Hecht-Lancaster Productions, pick up the teleplay's screen rights. This was one of the first times a television drama had been bought for film adaptation. Rumors persist, despite no supporting evidence, that Hecht and Lancaster set out to make the film expecting it to fail and provide them with a tax write-off against more lucrative projects. In January 1954, Hecht-Lancaster struck a distribution deal with United Artists, long a haven for independent production. The deal was not without problems. Initially, UA pushed them to cast a major star like Marlon Brando in the lead. To get the picture done their way, Lancaster had to threaten to cancel his deal for other pictures there. At the time, UA was going through a rough patch, with only Samuel Goldwyn producing big box-office pictures for them. Knowing the deal with Hecht-Lancaster was a major feather in their cap, they gave in. Not trusting the Hollywood system, Chayefsky made unprecedented demands for a first time screenwriter. He wanted exclusive control of the script, casting approval and a directing job for Mann, who had never made a film before. Surprisingly, Hecht and Lancaster acceded to all his demands. To expand his one-hour teleplay to feature length, Chayefsky added scenes about Marty’s career and his relationships with his mother and sister. He also made the leading lady's role somewhat larger, though a scene showing Clara with her parents after she first meets Marty was cut from the release print, only to be restored in some home video versions. There are two different stories explaining why Steiger did not recreate his television role for the big screen. The actor claimed that he decided not to make the movie, because the producers wanted to tie him up with a long-term contract. Hecht and Lancaster always held that they chose not to cast him for box-office reasons. They didn't think people would pay to see him in the role after having seen him for free on television. Unsure who to cast in the leading role once Steiger was eliminated, Delbert Mann asked his friend and fellow director Robert Aldrich for advice. Aldrich suggested Ernest Borgnine, though Mann hesitated at first since the actor was primarily known for playing villainous roles like Fatso in “From Here to Eternity” (1953). When Borgnine read for the part, he moved both Mann and Chayefsky, who was reading the mother's lines, to tears. In another story about Borgnine’s casting, Lancaster told the Hollywood Reporter that he had wanted to cast the actor in one of his productions since working with him on “From Here to Eternity.” When he saw Marty on television, Lancaster knew he had found his friend the perfect part. Although Steiger was out, Mann was able to cast Minciotti, Ciolli and Mantell, all of whom had appeared in the original television production. Hecht would later tell the press that he had set up the production planning to cast lesser-known actors in the leading roles. He felt using unfamiliar actors had paid off in recent European films and felt the time was ripe to try it in the U.S. Initially, Nancy Marchand was to make her big-screen debut reprising her performance as Clara, but Gene Kellys wife, Betsy Blair, campaigned hard for the role. United Artists and producers Hecht and Lancaster initially refused because she was blacklisted for her liberal activism. Then Kelly took up the battle. He swore he would never work for any of them if they didn't give her the role, and then got MGM to help him exert pressure by refusing to make his next film for them. Finally, MGM production chief Dore Schary called the American Legion to personally vouch for Blair, effectively removing her from the blacklist… (tcm.com) The Making of “Marty” “Marty” started production in October 1954 with location shooting in The Bronx. Among the local landmarks used in the film are The Grand Concourse and the IRT Third Avenue El. The scene behind the opening credits is Arthur Avenue in The Bronx, in front of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Interiors were shot in December at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Mann cast Paddy Chayefsky to play the three-line role of Leo. The director claimed they didn't have time to hire an extra for the role. Chayefsky would later complain that the $140 he had to pay to join the Screen Actors Guild to play the role was higher than the $67 union scale he was paid for it. Partway through production United Artists threatened to pull the plug because other Hecht-Lancaster films were over budget. According to Ernest Borgnine, the studio’s accountants saved the film by pointing out that under new tax laws they had to complete “Marty” and show it at least once before they could write it off as a tax loss. With no major stars in the film, Lancaster decided to appear in the theatrical trailer so that audiences would be introduced to the picture by a major box-office name...United Artists was willing to burn the film off as a second feature, but Chayefsky insisted it have some kind of first-run engagement, so it premiered at the Sutton Theatre in New York, normally a venue for art films. Hecht-Lancaster's New York publicity chief, Bernie Kamber, conducted a personal campaign for the film, setting up private screenings and convincing major press outlets to feature it positively. His biggest coup was getting influential columnist Walter Winchell to hail the film as one of the biggest sleepers in Hollywood history. The slow build in viewership began with strong reviews. Then the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, generating more press and more box office. As a result, it played 39 weeks at the Sutton to mostly packed houses. For subsequent openings, United Artist scheduled two weeks of screenings in various markets for community leaders to generate positive word of mouth. The move paid off, for though the film could not compete with the major studios’ big blockbusters, it made a small profit in its initial release. That was helped by its success at the Academy Awards®, which led United Artists to reissue it to 5,000 theatres. (tcm.com) About Actor Ernest Borgnine He was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut. His parents were Charles and Anna Borgnine, who immigrated from Carpi, a small town in Northern Italy at the turn of the century. As a child, Borgnine enjoyed watching sports, especially boxing, but acting did not interest him. In 1935, following his graduation from high school, Borgnine was uncertain about his future and he entered the Navy. He stayed in the Navy for ten years and returned home in 1945 still undecided about a career. After toiling at a few jobs at local factories, his mother suggested that he try acting since he had such a forceful personality. He took her advice seriously and promptly enrolled at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford. Borgnine finished his courses at the Randall School of Drama and joined Robert Porterfield's famous Barter Theater in Abington, Virginia. He worked four years at the theater playing every type of role imaginable and doing odd jobs around the theater. His big break came in 1949 when he made his acting debut on Broadway playing a male nurse in the play "Harvey". Borgnine moved to Hollywood in 1951 to pursue a career in screen acting. He made his debut in “The Whistle” at Eaton Falls. His film career gained momentum in 1953 when he won the role of Sergeant "Fatso" Judson in From “Here To Eternity.” That memorable role led to numerous supporting roles as heavies in a steady string of dramas and westerns. Borgnine was able to avoid type casting in 1955 by winning the role of Marty Piletti, a sensitive butcher, in “Marty.” He won the Academy Award as well as every other major award for the film, despite strong competition from Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra, James Dean and James Cagney. Throughout the 50s and early 60s, Borgnine gave memorable performances in films such as “The Catered Affair” (1956) with Bette Davis, “The Vikings” (1958) and “Barabbas” (1962). Later notable films included “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), “The Wild Bunch” (1969), “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) and “Emperor of the North Pole” (1973). Beginning in 1962 and ending in 1966, Borgnine played the leading role in the popular television series "McHale's Navy". Borgnine would return to television in 1984 in the action series “AirWolf” and in 1995 in the comedy “The Single Guy.” He also appeared in several television movies. When not in front of the camera, Borgnine was active in numerous charities, and tirelessly spoke at benefits throughout the country. He earned several honorary doctorates from colleges across the United States as well as numerous Lifetime Achievement Awards. In 1996, he bought a bus and traveled across the United States to see the country and meet his many fans. Ernest Borgnine has always said that his greatest love is acting and he continued to work up until his death in 2012. His amazing prolific career included appearances in over 100 feature films, three television series, as well as lending his voice to such animated films as “All Dogs Go To Heaven 2” (1996) and the popular television series “SpongeBob SquarePants.” In 2009, he received an Emmy nomination (his third) for his guest appearance on the series “ER.” Borgnine's autobiography “Ernie” was published by Citadel Press in July 2008...Ernest Borgnine died at the age of 95 on July 8, 2012 in Los Angeles. (una.edu) About Writer and Playwright Paddy Chayefsky Paddy Chayefsky was an American playwright, screenwriter and novelist. He is the only person to have won three solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (the other three-time winners, Francis Ford Coppola, Charles Brackett, Woody Allen and Billy Wilder, have all shared their awards with co-writers). He was considered one of the most renowned dramatists of the so-called Golden Age of Television. His intimate, realistic scripts provided a naturalistic style of television drama for the 1950s, and he was regarded as the central figure in the "kitchen sink realism" movement of American television. Following his critically acclaimed teleplays, Chayefsky continued to succeed as a playwright and novelist. As a screenwriter, he received three Academy Awards for “Marty,” “The Hospital,” and “Network.” His screenplay for Network is often regarded as his masterpiece. Paddy Chayefsky was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984. (emmys.com) About Director of Photography Joseph LaShelle Mr. La Shelle began his career as a film laboratory assistant in 1923 and two years later became an assistant cameraman. He made his debut as a cinematographer with the 1943 movie ''Happy Land'' and the following year won an Oscar for cinematography for ''Laura,'' an Otto Preminger film that starred Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. He was nominated for Academy Awards for his work on ''My Cousin Rachel,'' ''The Apartment,'' ''How the West Was Won,'' ''Irma La Douce,'' ''The Fortune Cookie,'' ''Career,'' ''Come to the Stable'' and ''River of No Return.''... and won an Oscar for his work on ''Laura,”... (nytimes.com) ...He passed away About Director Delbert Mann Mann was born in the town of Lawrence, Kansas, but the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where his father, a sociology professor, took up a teaching position. After graduating in political science from Vanderbilt University, Mann joined the US air corps, eventually becoming a B-24 bomber pilot, flying 35 combat missions in Europe. On being demobbed, he attended the Yale drama school, and then directed a few plays until an old friend from college days, Fred Coe, now a producer at NBC, offered him the job of directing live television drama. Among Mann's successes were Robert E Sherwood's “The Petrified Forest” (with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Henry Fonda); a musical version of Thornton Wilder's “Our Town” (with Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra) and three plays by Chayevsky: “Marty” (with Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand); “The Bachelor Party” (with Eddie Albert) and “The Middle of the Night” (with Eva Marie Saint and EG Marshall). All three of the Chayevsky plays were adapted successfully for the big screen and directed by Mann. But when serious drama was being drained from American television, both Mann and Chayevsky were persuaded to enter the movies at the instigation of independent production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster (the last named being Burt), which agreed to finance Marty on the minuscule budget of $343,000, solely as a tax loss. However, when it became clear that, far from their writing it off financially, Marty was destined to make them a healthy profit, they spent more on advertising and promotion than the shooting itself had cost. The same producer, director and writing team followed it up with the equally good “The Bachelor Party” (1957). Set in a cheerless New York, it followed the attempts of five office workers to enjoy the last night of bachelorhood of one of their number. But instead of having a good time, they find their problems are highlighted: the underlined message of the film was that marriage can be depressing, but it is better than being miserable alone. “Middle of the Night” (1959) continued to show that little people had real emotions, in this case, a lonely middle-aged widower (Fredric March) who becomes infatuated with a secretary (Kim Novak) at his clothing factory. The year before, Mann directed two rather flat adaptations from stage plays, Eugene O'Neill's Desire “Under the Elms” - shot on an artificial sound stage at Paramount, but allowing its three stars, Sophia Loren, Burl Ives and Tony Perkins, to shine through the murky atmosphere - and Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables. The latter boasted an Oscar-winning performance from David Niven as a bogus major. Another play, William Inge's “The Dark at the Top” of the Stairs (1960), which dealt with sexual awakening, family discord, class snobbery and antisemitism, got Mann's rather overwrought film treatment. Then, after years of depicting drab lives, Mann felt he had earned the right to move into the world of fluffy Doris Day romantic comedies, such as “Lover Come Back” (1961) and “That Touch of Mink” (1962), co-starring Rock Hudson and Cary Grant respectively. Hudson also starred in “A Gathering of Eagles” (1963), a cold war military drama made to please the rightwing head of the American air force, General Curtis LeMay, who wanted a patriotic air force film to counter Stanley Kubrick's satire Dr Strangelove. In the late 1960s Mann returned to work mostly on television. "I missed the excitement and concentration that live TV gave us in the old days. I was able to achieve the artistic freedom I can't get in films," he commented. But the days of live television were long over, and Mann concentrated on a series of stolid all-star productions shot on film. These included David Copperfield (with Richard Attenborough, Laurence Olivier, Edith Evans, Wendy Hiller and Ralph Richardson), Jane Eyre (with George C Scott and Susannah York) and Kidnapped (with Michael Caine and Trevor Howard). There were also several patriotic dramas, balanced by a respectable remake of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1979), with Mann boldly facing comparisons with the classic 1930 Lewis Milestone version. Mann, who declared, "I am not a great believer in the so-called auteur theory of film-making," saw himself more as a craftsman, paying close attention to narrative, realism, balance and continuity. (theguardian.com) Mann passed away in 2007. [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]