"Marty" gave the little independent film stature & prestige at a time when the motion industry was trying to be BIG in order to attract the millions who were enjoying entertainment on the small screen. "Marty" also stunned movie studio executives with the realization that what people were watching on television for free could be every bit as good as or better than lavish films with high-priced stars like "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing," "Mister Roberts," "Picnic" and "The Rose Tattoo."
"Marty" first appeared as a television drama on the May 24,1953 broadcast of NBC's Kraft Theatre, starring 28-year old Rod Steiger in the title role and Nancy Marchand, then 25, as his wallflower date Clara. For the movie version also directed by Delbert Mann, Ernest Borgnine, 38, played Marty and Betsy Blair, 32, was Clara. Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay of his original teleplay so infiltrated the consciousness of 1950's audiences that its influence continues to be felt many decades later. Leading men prior to "Marty" knew what they wanted to do, they didn't have trouble getting dates and they didn't look like Ernest Borgnine. But indecision and insecurity are intrinsic to real life and when Chayefksy tapped into that, the audience identification with Marty was pervasive. Lonely, middle-aged men recognized and understood Marty and felt validated by him.
Although Chayefsky's portrait of Clara is harsher in many ways, it does show that a woman doesn't have to be movie star pretty to find love and happiness. Clara is seen in isolation: All we know about her is that she's a schoolteacher who's been rejected by a blind date. We learn about her goodness and kindness as she blossoms through Marty's sympathetic attention. We know more about Marty's world, about his mother, his aunt, his brother, his sister-in-law, and most of all, his friends, Angie, Ralph, The Kid and Joe. ("What do you feel like doing tonight?" "I don't know. What do you feel like doing?") Divided, they might have a chance at a real life, but united they are losers with a capital "L." In their world, nothing worth having is here, it has to be somewhere else, but they haven't a clue where that might be. For Marty to break away from these guys is difficult, they're all he knows, but his leap of courage is accomplished in a poignant, bittersweet way, considerably enhanced by Borgnine's kind eyes and his big, homely face. Pioneer indie producers Harold Hecht & Burt Lancaster made "Marty" for $343,000, only to strike gold with the Academy voters. With its unfussy presentation and simple truths, "Marty" had touched everyone's heart.
© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 1/28/09
USA - 1955