09 December 2022

52 for '22: Marty

MovieMarty (1955)
Method: Netflix DVD

Why Did I watch this?

Oh, lots of reasons. It's a Best Picture winner, one of my uncle's favorite films, and a notable film in every possible listing ever. I can't believe it took me so long to dive into. It's not a long film, either. But for the exact reason, buddy we're pretty much at the end of the line on this list for 2022!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew quite a bit. I knew Ernest Borgnine was in it and it made him a star. I had forgotten about just how many accolades it got (BP, Actor, Screenplay, and Director). I knew the general just of it - it stars this guy Marty and he goes on an adventure or whatever. I thought it was going to be a bit more comedic, it really wasn't that funny. But compelling!

How Was It?

I don't know how this thing won Best Picture, it feels like this kind of film would never win that today. It's extremely light and airy and doesn't deal with any major societal issue except for Ernest Borgnine getting laid. Where Marty succeeds though, is that despite the fact that it's not epic in scope (either in plot or theme), it insanely executes exactly what it's trying to do.

Screenplay I can see. It's that rare kind of film where as you're watching it you can notice how tight and crisp the writing is. This thing is a beautiful 90 minutes and there's not a lick of fat on the bone. The characters are fully formed from the get go, and you understand Marty's problem right away - dude needs to get laid. It really only worries about that singular concept and spins it until it ends.

There's a little more to it than that. Marty is constantly harangued for being a 34-year old Bachelor in NEW YORK CITY. I mean, whatever, clearly, but the dude gets it from all angles! His mother, his friends, the little old ladies that stop by his butcher shop. It's insane. And this coasts on the strength of Borgnine's charisma. Marty could assuredly be a weird, creepy incel, but he plays it so sweet and innocent. He's really just trying to make people happy, but he himself is unhappy. He doesn't need to hear it from everyone because it's his own internal monologue.

And we don't need too much dialogue to show this. You get it from his face, his mannerisms, and everything he does. His mom convinces him to go to the Dance and there he picks up "a real dog" and bless Betsy Blair's heart for taking a role where every other character in the film comments on how ugly she is. Apparently she was a communist and blacklisted, so maybe that's why she was okay in a thankless role, but that's neither here nor there. She does great work as a relatively simple woman, but one who staunchly defends herself when pressed. Did Marty try to rape her? That's for the problematic section.

This poor girl, she's on a blind date at the same dance and her dude is immediately turned off and tries to score with another bird. He literally pays someone off to dance with her instead. At least he's thinking of her. Most of the middle part of the movie is Marty putting hoes before bros and having a positively charming time with her.

Then the other shoe drops. Before he meets Clara everyone says he needs to find a girl. Then he finds a girl, he's really happy, and everyone says she's a dog and he shouldn't be with her. There's a few things things going on here - first, his mother and friends realize they'll lose the Marty they can rely on if he actually finds a dame. They're also jealous and try to talk him out of it. These old single guys are trying to cling to the last remnants of their bachelorhood and they're more comfortable doing what they've always done and wallowing in their self-pity rather than recognize that they could find happiness. They are actually the ones stuck in the status quo. Marty is ready to move on and be an adult and it scares the hell out of them.

There's this ode to lip service, like people claim they want the best for their loved ones, but it's really a selfish act. And Marty is so self-less that he lets himself be manipulated. There is a great side-bit with his cousin whose mother is driving his wife insane. He seems complacent at first, which I thought was a great bit, but then blows up when he's in a situation that he controls (ie no mothers or aunts present), and appears pretty abusive. He's also jealous of Marty's single way of life, but Marty knows that he'll treat his woman right and be able to own the butchershop and be happy. Every other character is pulling him back. And bless his heart, he just lets them.

I got a supremely gay vibe from his friend, too. Like, him and Marty were definitely gay together. A lot of jealousy there for sure. C'mon, you can't watch this in 2022 and think anything different. Two stag dudes going to the Hayseed Dance. You gotta love it. Either that or incels. It's also easy to view this from 2022 picturing a lot of nerds that think women suck because they don't like them. I'm not sure if it's refreshing or not to remember that this concept goes back way farther than Trump.

There is a lot going on here, and some really complex character work, but it's all done at the fridge, not on the screen. Marty is good, man. And it doesn't really try to hit you over the head with anything. It's mostly subtle and super light drama. It's how it gets you! It sneaks up on you. It's a very well done movie.

This was longtime TV director Delbert Mann's first feature but the lighting and composition is supreme. Marty's mother's house is dark and old but his face is so round and captures a ton of light. There are crowd shots in small aspect ratios and a really wide variety of shading in its black and white cinematography. It's pretty to look at! I always love movies that find some beauty in the extremely ordinary.

Marty is good. Go watch it!

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