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ON DVD & BLU-RAY

Marty (1955) starring Ernest Borgnine Dual Format (Eureka!)

Marty is an adaptation of a 1953 teleplay of the same name.

A bachelor butcher finds love

Ernest Borgnine plays Marty Pitelli, an Italian-American butcher who lives in New York with his mother, Theresa (Esther Minciotti). While he’s a wholly decent man, he seems condemned to be a lifelong bachelor due to his awkwardness with women. One day, his cousin Tommy (Jerry Paris) and the latter’s wife (Karen Steele) come around to Theresa’s house to get her sister Caterina (Augusta Ciolli) to stay with them so that they can have some privacy together. While he’s there, Tommy leaves a tip for the lonely Marty: to try the Stardust Club as it is, in his 1950s euphemistic expression: “loaded with tomatoes”.

Marty is initially reluctant to take the risk of getting yet more rejection and heartache but ultimately decides to head there with his best buddy Angie (Joe Mantell). While there, he meets a mousey chemistry teacher named Clara (Betsy Blair) who has been stood up by her own date. The pair soon find that they click very well. However, their blossoming relationship is under threat from peer pressure, courtesy of both Marty’s overbearing mother and his circle of boorish male friends.

Watch a trailer:


A heartfelt drama

Marty is a movie from the 1950s that is in some senses rather dated and in others, holds up very well. On the good side, it presents something of a message which is diametrically opposed to the usual Hollywood glamour obsession and asks us to sympathise with those people who don’t necessarily hit it off so well with the opposite sex. It also does so in a heartfelt and non-patronising way.

The old-fashioned aspects come largely via the time-capsule view of dating culture, with its language and manners that seem almost laughably prudish by today’s standards. This movie was made during a more wholesome time when a grown woman would state to her boyfriend that she’s not ready for a kiss. Come to think of it, was it really like this? I wasn’t around during the 1950s so I obviously can’t verify this personally! The portrayal of female characters wouldn’t wash today either; while Betsy Blair is likeable enough as Clara, her character is a blandly passive and doting “nice girl”. Meanwhile, Marty’s mother and aunt present a decidedly stereotypical view of senior Catholic Italian women, i.e. henpecking busybodies.

Ernest Borgnine and Joe Mantell in Marty (1955)

However, the tale still works well, thanks partially to Ernest Borgnine’s Oscar-winning performance and partially to a sharp script written by Paddy Chayefsky. For those who have only seen him in his many stock roles which he took over the years (usually various authority figures and antagonists), his multilayered work here as a good-natured man driven to frustration by his lack of success with women may come as something of a revelation. Despite some of the dated dating lingo (“loaded with tomatoes”), the flow of dialogue is often painfully well-observed, a classic example being Marty’s telephone conversation with an unseen and unheard woman whom he met on a previous night out. As he asks her if she’s free on one night after another, we can see the disappointment etched on his face even if we can’t hear her implied brush-offs.

Despite the aforementioned problems and an overly abrupt ending, Marty is entertaining throughout and keeps us rooting for the happiness of the central couple in the face of the various social pressures that they face. A highly satisfying drama.

Runtime: 90 mins

Dir: Delbert Mann

Script: Paddy Chayefsky

Starring: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli, Joe Mantell, Karen Steele, Jerry Paris

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

I’ve received the DVD version for review. Detail levels look fine but there are noticeable blemishes and dirt which haven’t been cleaned up. It’s perfectly watchable but a bit disappointing in that a bit of extra effort wasn’t taken here.

Extras

Marty - The original teleplay

It’s the original TV version of the story, which was broadcast as part of the Philco Television Playhouse series in 1953. It shares the same director and a few of the cast members with the later big screen incarnation. However, Marty himself is played by Rod Steiger here, while Clara is played by Nancy Marchand. It’s 51 minutes in length and misses some of the material found in the later version. A number of the scenes between Marty and Clara in the film aren’t present in this version and, as such, there isn’t as much of a sense of a mutual bond between the characters. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to watch the clearly talented Steiger’s take on the titular character.

Unfortunately, the audio-visual quality is very poor (even by comparison with the slightly disappointing state of the main feature). Indeed, the fact that SDH subtitles are available for this version is a godsend when it comes to trying to understand the muffled dialogue. Nonetheless, this is a nice inclusion here.

Interviews with Delbert Mann and the cast of the original teleplay

A short 5-minute featurette of interviews culled from what appears to be an American TV show presented by Eva Marie Saint. As well as Mann, we also get some snippets with Rod Steiger, Nancy Marchand and Betsy Palmer. We learn that the script was rushed to completion to fill a gap in Philco Television Playhouse’s schedule after another originally planned play ran into difficulties. It was inspired by Mann and Chayefsky’s real-life recollections of a local “friendship club”, which used to have signs on the wall bearing such rules and etiquette as the following (directed to the women present): “Men have feelings too. Please dance when you’re asked”.

Interview with Neil Sinyard

Sinyard talks about the background to the making of a film which was originally set up for failure in order for it to make money as a tax write-off. Indeed, when the production was due to move onto interior sets, everyone involved in the production was surprised that the studio (United Artists) hadn’t built them as they had never intended for it to be completed. However, they found afterwards that they had to complete the film in order for it to qualify for the tax shelter. On release, it was an unexpectedly huge phenomenon. This included it being the first American film to be shown in the Soviet Union since WWII and the first big-screen directorial debut to win a Best Director Oscar.

The casting of actress Betsy Blair was controversial because she was on the Hollywood Blacklist at this time. However, she was ultimately cast after her husband Gene Kelly wielded his considerable heft.

A trailer rounds out the extras.

Overall:

Marty is a neat and unassuming little movie - well-acted, well put together and undeniably heartfelt. While some of the audio-visual aspects of the disc find wanting, the extras are decent.

Movie: ☆☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆1/2

Audio: ☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆1/2

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