In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Screenwriter Paddy Cheyefsky said that with Marty, he wanted to make, ‘the most ordinary love story in the world.’ The fact that he accomplished that is what makes Marty so extraordinary.”
“See, dogs like us, we ain’t such dogs as we think we are.”
A romantic drama isn’t the kind of movie I seek out often. A 70 year old romantic drama when acting styles were more on the hammy, overtly theatrical side really isn’t the kind of movie I seek out often. But when a movie wins Best Picture and Best Screenplay at the Oscars, and becomes the first American movie to win the Palme d’or at Cannes, I can look past the negative preconceptions of its genre and era. Which is good, because if I didn’t, I would have missed the amazing movie that is Marty.
Marty (Ernest Borgnine) is a 34 year old butcher in the Bronx. He spends his Saturday morning serving customers who alternate between buying meat and haranguing him for being a bachelor while his half dozen younger siblings are all married off and building families. A quick catch up with his friend Angie (Joe Mantell) reveals the story of their lives, each Saturday night, these two aging bachelors try their luck with women, and each Saturday night they lose.
When Marty arrives home, his mother convinces him to go to a dance hall that night. He reluctantly agrees and Angie joins him. At the dance hall, single 29 year old school teacher Clara (Besty Blair) has been abandoned by a blind date and is crying on the roof top. When Marty discovers the girl, the two recognise a mutual loneliness and spend the night talking, dancing and commiserating together about their non existent love lives. Meanwhile, Marty’s mother is trying to convince her elderly sister to come live with her and Marty, at the request of her frustrated nephew and his wife.
Screenwriter Paddy Cheyefsky said that with Marty, he wanted to make, “the most ordinary love story in the world.” The fact that he accomplished that is what makes Marty so extraordinary. This is such a small story in its scope. Taking place over the course of only a couple of days, in just a few settings, all in the same neighbourhood. There’s nothing grand about Marty, there’s nothing glamorous about its characters, and the conversations between Marty and Clara are almost mundane. But so much is happening on an emotional level that the magnitude of these several days in the lives of these everyday characters is immense.
The ordinary nature of Marty goes beyond the screenplay, it’s all about casting as well. Ernest Borgnine was never a leading man heartthrob, and Betsy Blair is perfectly cast as the pretty but plain girl next door. The screenplay gets a little on the nose every now and again when Marty and Clara blatantly talk about their lack of confidence and harsh views of themselves, but the two actors make it work. If Marty was remade today, you know we’d have to deal with two perfect physical specimens like Jennifer Lawrence and Jake Gyllenhaal, trying so hard to come across as sad sacks. In 1955, Marty was so affecting because it cast people who looked they could be living these lives. The fact that were both amazing actors was just a bonus.