Paddy Chayefsky’s slice-of-life drama, Marty, is a heartwarming story about lonely Bronx butcher Marty Pilletti (Ernest Borgnine). Burly and not handsome, Marty does not hold out much hope for either a good career or even a little romance. Almost middle-aged, Marty still lives at home with his kind but smothering mother (Esther Minciotti), and his small circle of lifelong friends have even fewer prospects than Marty does. Mrs. Pilletti tries to boost Marty’s confidence by getting him to go to the Stardust Ballroom in Manhattan, where he meets plain-looking schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair) whose disappointing life seems to mirror his own. Surprised and frustrated that his mother and friends don’t like her, Marty is convinced that he and Clara could find happiness together.
The story is about nothing in particular and everything that people experience in their day-to-day lives. To be honest, not much happens in the movie. Marty goes to work, comes home, talks with his mother in the kitchen, hangs out with his pals, and tentatively woos Clara. The moviegoer could see something of himself or herself in Marty’s mundane routine. In the grander scheme of things, the film has a more universal appeal – it is a story of love and the search for happiness. Even though Borgnine was no one’s idea of a conventional leading man, Marty became an Everyman for audiences, the representative of the working class that had become such a strong social and cultural force in the mid-1950s.
Marty stands as the most modest film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Its budget was just over $300,000 so it stands as one of the most profitable films ever made, in terms of cost-to-profit ratio, earning many, many times more than its miniscule cost. Producers Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster financed the movie as a tax-write off, believing the picture would lose money. When the film started accumulating critical acclaim, United Artists actually spent more money ($400,000) on its award campaign than the movie cost to make.
The film is a remake of a 1953 TV movie, so it is the only Oscar winner based on a TV film, as well as the shortest Oscar winner at just 90 minutes. Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, the film won 4 Oscars for Best Picture, Actor (Borgnine), Director and Adapted Screenplay. Other losing nominations were for Supporting Actor (Joe Mantell playing Marty’s buddy Angie), Supporting Actress (Blair), Art Direction and Cinematography.
- by Jonathan Lewis
(OTHER NOMINEES: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing / Mister Roberts / Picnic / The Rose Tattoo)