Study Guide

Marty

Marty Introduction


Release Year: 1955

Genre: Drama, Romance

Director: Delbert Mann

Writer: Paddy Chayefsky

Stars: Ernest Borgnine, Esther Minciotti, Betsy Blair


Whether it's the Lord of the Rings' scrappy Frodo Baggins or the 2012 Gonzaga basketball team, everyone loves an underdog.

Joining the ranks? Marty. 

This movie tells the story of—you guessed it—Marty, a chubby, lonely butcher in Bronx, New York. He's falling in love for the first time while his family grapples for happiness as postwar American society is shifting underneath their feet.

The movie began its life as a teleplay in 1953, with Paddy Chayefsky writing and Delbert Mann directing. Think of a stage play mashed up with a Lifetime Channel production, which you could watch with your family on the living room TV before cable was a glimmer in anybody's eye. Producers Hecht-Lancaster-Hill saw potential in bringing it to the silver screen, which they did in 1955, keeping on Chayefsky, Mann, and most of the actors… except the romantic duo at the center of the plot.

The film stars Ernest Borgnine (in a role that finally broke him out of his dramatic career playing mobsters and heavies) and Betsy Blair (who finally made her way off the McCarthy-Era blacklist at the urging of her then-husband Gene Kelly) as homely Marty and plain-Jane Clara, who find love in a place that only seemed hopeless.

The film, a character-driven indie-style production released by the studio system before that kind of thing happened on the regular, was far more successful than anyone expected it would be. In fact, it turned a $343,000 mini-budget into a little bit of profit and tons of critical acclaim.

Borgnine won an Oscar for his turn as the butcher, as did writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann, and the movie nabbed Best Picture. Not bad for a bumbling, softhearted, achingly sincere, dialogue-heavy film about Italian-American immigrants just trying to do the best they can in the Bronx, huh?

Think of Marty as the first indie film: the big-boned, lovable uncle of Sex, Lies, And Videotape; Dear White People; and Boyhood. Or think of it as one of the first Italian-American slice-of-life flicks: the grandpappy (or should we say "nonno") of Big Night, The Godfather, and everything Scorsese ever directed. 

Or hey—just think of Marty as the original underdog movie.

However you think of it, give it a watch. We swear on a stack of newly-cut prosciutto: this butcher-finds-love story has stayed fresh for more than sixty years. (We just wish our prosciutto would behave the same way.)

What is Marty About and Why Should I Care?

We can't help feeling that Marty feels fresh to death, even though it's old enough to get its AARP card. Why's that? We have a theory: truly modern love.

While fairy tales and rom-coms waste time with looks and cliché romance, Marty recognizes that true love is a relationship where partners mutually respect and support each other. Think Bey and Jay, or 'Ye and Kim. Just like Jay produces hits and Bey keeps dropping those surprise albums, the couple in Marty is primed to succeed and support each other doing so… albeit in a more on-the-DL, 1955-type fashion.

Marty is totally ready to take his career to the next level by buying the butcher shop from his retiring boss. While others throw him shade about the enterprise, his love interest, Clara, tells him to go for it, sure he'll be great. In turn, Marty tells Clara not to worry about relocating out of the city to take a position as head of a high school science department. If she gets lonely, he'll borrow his cousin's car and come visit.

Even though these advancements could introduce distance and busyness to this budding relationship, Marty and Clara recognize that mutual support is key to a happy, long-term commitment. And that's some real, stay-fresh romance between a power couple who live life on their own terms.

The filmmakers were working over half a century ago and still come off as socially visionary. The movie itself is pretty much a period piece, so squarely set in the Bronx that in can feel like a piece of anthropology. So how did the filmmakers pull off such a modern love story?

For all of us, lovers and loners, film nerds and rom-com fans alike, it's definitely worth a good think. And a good watch. And—if you're big softies like us—a good happy-cry.

Trivia

At 91 minutes, Marty was the shortest film to win an Academy Award Best Picture. Gone With the Wind is the longest, at 238 minutes. Yup. You could fit 2 ½ Martys in one Gone With The Wind. (Source)

Author Don Delillo grew up in the Bronx amid Marty's stomping grounds, and set his novel Underworld there. Delillo said in an interview: "I was very young when I saw Marty by Delbert Mann, which takes place where I used to live, in the Italian part of the Bronx. The film was shown in Manhattan, so there were eight of us guys, packed in a car to go and watch it. The opening scene takes place in Arthur Avenue. It was our place! Seeing our street, the shops we patronized, there in a movie theater, that was amazing. It was as if our very existence was acknowledged. We never would have thought that somebody would make a film in those streets." (Source)

At the time Ernest Borgnine was shooting Marty, he was best known for playing a character who murdered Frank Sinatra's character in From Here to Eternity. The locals were die-hard Frank Sinatra fans (an Italian boy who'd made good) and threatened him until he explained (in fluent Italian, natch) that the two were good buds. (Source)

Things didn't end as happily for Marty composer Roy Webb as they did for the film's characters: In 1965 lighting struck his home and he lost every piece of music he ever wrote. Webb retired immediately after. (Source)

Marty Resources

Websites

From His Pages to Their Mouths
The film's shooting script is impressively similar to what ended up being performed.

From Film to Fan Mail
Here are the Paddy Chayefsky Papers.

Where Marty Is History
Learn more about Marty's 'hood.

Articles and Interviews

"It's All Show Business, Isn't It?"
Ernest Borgnine, an Emmy Legacy, talks turkey.

The 1955 New York Times Review Gives Marty a Seal of Approval
The awesomely-named Bosley Crowther calls the flick a "playlet," and he's not wrong.

"Word-of-Mouth Will Bring 'Em"
Or so says this 1955 Variety review.

The First Golden Age of Television
What came before The Sopranos and Mad Men.

The Blacklist
Betsy Blair talks about being blacklisted and how Marty changed things.

Marty Matters
Considering Marty in the contemporary age.

From the Mouth of Paddy
A collection of quotes on the writing process.

Modest Marty
The AV Club unpacks how this little film packed such a big punch.

Book or TV Adaptations

Marty the First
Before the feature film came the 1953 teleplay.

Marty Hits Broadway
John C. Reilly stars in the stage adaptation.

Video

"No I'm Not In It, It's All His"
Ultra-modest producer/actor Burt Lancaster introduces the trailer for Marty.

And the Emmy Goes to...
Director Delbert Mann accepts his first big award in less than five seconds.

Fault-Finding Mission
A fan finds the flaws in the film's production.

Audio

"Words That Just Fell Off Your Tongue"
The NYC NPR-affiliate charts Paddy Chayefsky's rise from Marty on up to his novel Altered States.

The Enchanted Cottage
Roy Webb might not have won an Oscar for Marty, but he did for this score.

Images

"I Was the Heavy One"
Ernest Borgnine on the set.

Movie Stars Love This Totally Fictional Character
Warning: This movie poster contains a spoiler.

Smiles All Around!
How is it that the crew looks like they could be part of the cast?

No Dogs Here
Gif offers the moral of the story.

The Stardust Ballroom, IRL
Let's dance.