Marty (1955): Best Picture, Director (Delbert Mann), Actor (Ernest Borgnine)

In 1955, nominated for eight awards, “Marty” won four: Picture, Director Delbert Mann, writer Paddy Chayefsky, and actor Ernest Borgnine, in one of the few leading and sympathetic roles he ever played; he was usually cast as the villain.”Marty” tells the love story of a lonely bachelor-butcher from the Bronx (Ernest Borgnine), and Clara, a shy teacher (Betsy Blair), after they meet in a dance hall. Shot in the Bronx, its American-Italian locale was captured with attention to realistic detail.

But the script patronizes its “little” protagonists, an attitude demonstrated in a scene in which Marty tells Clara, “You’re not really as much of a dog as you think you are.”

“Marty” is one of the least commercially successful Oscar-winning movies. Years later, the film served as inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky,” which won the 1976 Best Picture Oscar.

Detailed Synopsis

Marty Piletti (Borgnine), an Italian-American butcher, lives in the Bronx with his mother (Esther Minciotti). Unmarried at 34, the good-natured but socially awkward man faces badgering from family and friends to get married; all his brothers and sisters are already married with children.

Disheartened by his lack of prospects, Marty has reluctantly resigned himself to bachelorhood.  But despite failed love life, Marty bears an optimistic outlook on life—he uses expressions such as “Perfect!” or “Fantastic!”

After being harassed by his mother into going to the Stardust Ballroom on Saturday, Marty meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a plain schoolteacher, weeping on the roof after being callously abandoned at the ballroom by her blind date. Spending the evening together dancing, walking and talking, Clara and Marty share many values. He eagerly tells Clara his life story and dreams.  They encourage each other and awkwardly express their mutual attraction. Delighted with his new love, he takes her home by bus, promising to call her at two-thirty the next afternoon.  Feeling good, he punches the bus stop sign and weaves between the cars, looking for a cab, a rare luxury matching his mood.

His cranky widowed aunt, who moves in, warns his mother that living alone, when children marry, is a widow’s fate. Fearing that Marty’s romance would spell abandonment, his mother belittles Clara. Marty’s friends, envious of him, also deride Clara for her plainness. They try to convince Marty to forget her and to remain unmarried. Under peer pressure, Marty doesn’t call Clara.

Later that night, Marty realizes his mistake–he is giving up a chance of love with a woman he really likes. Over objections of friends, he calls Clara, who is watching TV with her parents. When his friend asks what he’s doing, Marty says: “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! If we make a party on New Year’s, I got a date for that party. You don’t like her? That’s too bad!

Marty closes the booth’s door, when Clara answers the phone. In the film’s last line, he tentatively says “Hello… Hello, Clara?” indicating they have a future together.

Oscar Nominations: 8

Picture, produced by Harold Hecht Director: Delbert Mann Screenplay: Paddy Chayefsky Actor: Ernest Borgnine Supporting Actress: Betsy Blair Supporting Actor: Joe Mantell Cinematography (b/w): Joseph LaShelle Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Edward S. Haworth and Walter Simonds; Robert Priestley

Oscar Awards

Picture Director Screenplay Actor

Oscar Context

In 1955, the most nominated (9) film was “The Rose Tattoo,” based on Tennessee Williams play and directed by the other Mann, Daniel. Most of the nominated pictures were screen adaptations of popular stage or TV plays. The other three nominees were the romantic melodrama “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” John Ford’s “Mister Roberts,” and “Picnic.”

“Marty” is the second film to have won the Oscar and the Palme d’Or, the Cannes Festival’s top prize; the first was “The Lost Weekend.”

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