Tuesday 14 August 2007

Marty (1955) Delbert Mann

When I think of Ernest Borgnine I think of Airwolf, which is understandable as I grew up watching him in it every week, but somewhat limiting when it comes to what had already been a long and celebrated career. I'd seen him before in The Dirty Dozen and Escape from New York but more recently I've been seeing him in films that haven't just stood the test of time but gone down in cinematic legend: From Here to Eternity, Johnny Guitar and Bad Day at Black Rock for a start. Suddenly I started to see him in a slightly different light, and this is the one that won him an Oscar.

He's the Marty of the title, Marty Piletti, a butcher and a good man but a lonely one. The very beginning of the film points out that he has a huge family, all of which seem to have spent much of their time getting married. All his customers keep telling him that he ought to be ashamed of himself for still being unmarried, especially as he's older than most of them and he still lives with his mother. All his friends want to go out and pick up girls, but he's fed up of the search.

Eventually his mother persuades him to go to the Stardust Ballroom where he has just as bad luck as usual, because he's not looking for the same things everyone else is. Purely by chance he ends up meeting a young lady who is in a similar plight. She's a quiet teacher called Clara Snyder, she's been badgered into going herself, she's used to being a wallflower, she lives with her father... lots and lots of similarities and so after being thrown together through the power of coincidence suddenly the wallflowers find themselves wallflowers no longer.

They haven't the faintest idea what they're doing, of course, and their first date, not that you could call it a date, is what most people would see as a complete disaster. They weren't looking for the same things everyone else was looking for, and they don't recognise what they find because they weren't expecting to find it. Yet because of who they are they really make an impression on each other and the future is suddenly full of possibility and giddiness too.

There are lessons here, both human ones and cinematic ones. Cinematically, it's far from the standard love story and far from the standard lovers, which is more than refreshing to my eyes. They're real people, they're good people and they deserve their happiness. I'd rather watch Marty and Clara talking to each other in a luncheonette anytime than a couple of lowlifes like Rhett and Scarlett screwing up each others lives anyday. A good deal of that is due to the story by Paddy Chayefsky, adapted to film from his own live TV show presentation, but leads Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair are absolutely perfect in their parts and Esther Minciotti and Augusta Ciolli are hilarious as two old Italian women bitching at each other.

On a human level, it isn't particularly surprising to me as I remember some of this from my own background, and I didn't have the added disadvantages of having a large and extended New York Italian family to bitch at me. I saw plenty of sheep in my own life who did things just because people told them to: get drunk, get laid get married. And most of those people who apparently fit wonderfully into society turned out to be not very happy about it, once they grew old enough to realise who they were. People like me who ignored most of that because we were annoyingly awkward and individual, grew up to find the people who mattered to us. Just like Marty and Clara, we started late but ended up happy, while pretty much everyone else we know started early and ended up in a complete mess.

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