Critics Consensus

Scriptwriter Paddy Chayefsky's solid dialogue is bolstered by strong performances from Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in this appealingly low-key character study.



Total Count: 33


Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,722
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Movie Info

Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning slice-of-life drama originated as a live 1953 broadcast directed by Delbert Mann on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse starring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand. The Hecht-Lancaster movie version, also directed by Mann, replaces the two leads with Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair (as well as featuring several soon-to-be-familiar faces, including Jerry Paris, Frank Sutton, and Karen Steele, plus Joe Mantell, Nehemiah Persoff, and Betsy Palmer from the TV version). But it remains otherwise intact, telling of 24 very important hours in the lives of two lonely people. Marty is a bittersweet, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and always realistic comedy-drama about Marty Pilletti (Ernest Borgnine), a 34-year-old Bronx butcher. Approaching middle-age as a burly, somewhat overweight man who has no illusions about himself or his attractiveness to women, Marty looks forward to just one thing in life -- buying his boss's butcher shop and trying to make a success in business -- and he's even uncertain about that. A gentle, good-natured man, he lives with his mother (Esther Minciotti), a kind but emotionally smothering woman, in a too-large house and spends his time with a small circle of dead-end friends (Joe Mantell, Frank Sutton). One Friday night, Marty's mother convinces him to go to the Stardust Ballroom, where he meets a plain-looking schoolteacher named Clara (Betsy Blair), whose life appears to mirror his own -- she lives with her father, and is frightened about the one prospect she has for advancement in her job. Meeting her after witnessing a humiliating rejection by her blind date, Marty acts on his best impulses and asks Clara to dance, and soon they are actually enjoying each other's company. She is as drawn to him as he is to her, but both are so uncertain about putting themselves at risk emotionally, that the evening almost ends badly when he tries to kiss her -- but they agree to talk on the phone and go to a movie the next night. But whatever good feelings he has about Clara are soon threatened by his friends' put-downs of her, and his mother's hostility, driven by her sudden panic that if Marty marries, she'll be left living alone. Marty spends the next day alone and never does call Clara, seemingly having decided that it's best to leave well enough alone. That is, until he takes a good long look at his life, and a listen to his friends -- and he suddenly makes the decision to try for true happiness, wherever it leads.

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Critic Reviews for Marty

All Critics (33) | Top Critics (6)

Audience Reviews for Marty

  • Jul 09, 2018
    'Marty' reminds me of the film 'The Catered Affair', which would come out the following year, and also star Ernest Borgnine. Both are quiet and understated, and highlight loneliness and disillusionment in very real ways. In 'Marty', Borgnine is a 34 year old unmarried butcher who still lives with his mother (Esther Minciotti). While she's part of the chorus around him which is critical of him still being single, which includes his customers and friends, they all have a part in trying to keep him that way when he meets a nice young woman (Betsy Blair). Borgnine is clearly a gentleman and a nice guy, but shows his frustration and angst in a couple of nice scenes. The film is especially touching in its moments of honesty, the most memorable for me being Blair explaining to Borgnine in the simplest, most authentic way, why she shied away from kissing him. There is such purity and grace in her character and performance. For anyone who has been lonely or wondered about ever finding someone, the film will likely strike a chord. It's simple on the surface but I liked it for its nuances. Director Delbert Mann and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky show us some of the destructive ways men behave towards women - looking at girlie magazines, reading unrealistic accounts of women's behavior in pulp fiction, and looking for 'sure things' on nights of revelry. It also shows us the tension between wanting to support one's parents in their old age by having them live under the same roof, but just how big of a strain that might be. Minicotti's performance as the mother is excellent, and we see how she understands this issue when it relates to her sister's situation, but then has difficulty applying it to her own. Lastly, the film has some nice street scenes, which underscore its realism. I don't see the film as worthy of four Oscars and four other nominations, it just doesn't seem to be in that category, but if you're looking for a quiet, touching film, this is a good one.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 04, 2016
    Do you remember all of those movies in the 1990's about someone who didn't know what they wanted to be or where they wanted to go. There was an emphasis on just hanging out and killing time until the next day to start again or the work their way into the next weekend of killing time until Monday. Marty stands as the originator of this type of plot where a young man has stayed with his mother beyond his years and is just following the current that is life. The film stars Ernest Borgnine as the title character, a butcher who lives with his mother and hangs out with his buddies at night and on weekends. Even with all of these people in his life, Marty is lonely. He longs to be with a girl; a nice girl. As the film proceeds we follow Marty as he attempts to begin relationships with females that are mainly acquaintances, ships floating by in the dead of the night that you may wonder where they traveled after your encounter, but you'll never see them again. What happens next is the "when you least expect it" notion kicks in and Marty meets Clara (Betsy Blair) who he becomes enchanted with, even though Clara goes against the world that Marty has created for himself. Borgnine's performance is on par with some of the best work of the 1950's, going well beyond the norms of the era. When Marty is shot down, lonely, excited, you feel it in his performance. You come along on this ride with Marty and it is an emotional roller coaster. It's a portrayal that will stay with you long after seeing this film. It's a masterpiece of a performance that won Borgnine a well deserved Academy Award. Those feelings go hand in hand with what you feel as a viewer, particularly when Marty and Clara begin their courtship. You feel those feelings that a person experiences when they meet a person and they like that person, spending hours with them just talking or walking or whatever because it doesn't matter. You just want to be with that person. It's a hard feeling to describe and it is something that comes up when reminiscing about that first meeting, but it's a universal feeling that a person holds onto throughout the rest of their life. Marty captures that moment perfectly. I can't think of a film that displays that moment and those feelings like Marty does. Usually they end up in slapstick like blah. There is not gimmick or pratfall. This is just two people falling for each other. Marty is a best picture winner and coming from a time when epics and big names usually won the big prize Marty is a nice little breath of fresh air. It still holds the record as the shortest Best Picture.
    Chris G Super Reviewer
  • Jan 31, 2016
    Paddy Chavefsky's script is a joy in this seemingly simple tale about two "ugly"people finding safe harbor in each other (there's even a hilarious minor side trip that critiques popular detective author Mickey Spillane!). Great performances throughout.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Aug 20, 2014
    Marty... we have to get back to the future! Oh, hey, Marty McFly actually did travel back to the year this film was released, so that lame joke was more clever than you thought it was. Yeah, that was pretty forced, and a lot about this film is not forced, because one has to respect its having the honesty to make the Italian-American butcher Ernest Borgning, and to hook him up with, of all people, Betsy Blair. Blair's ex-husband, Gene Kelly, was more of a starlet than she was, so this isn't exactly your usual Hollywood fluff piece where everyone is beautiful and the Frenchies turn their nose up at it. This film scored itself the Palm d'Or, in addition to Best Picture, so I guess it's safe to say that taking something from TV and putting it on the big screen wasn't always a problematic idea. Yup, if you were one of those fancy pants rich folks with a TV in 1953, then teleplaywright Paddy Chayefsky already spoiled this story for you, only this time, you get to see it with mega-stars the likes of... Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair. These people may not have been pretty, but they sure could carry a film, though not entirely past its flaws. The film is plenty entertaining much more often than not, and considering that it isn't but about 90 minutes long, there isn't much, if any room for draggy spots in storytelling, but there are still some slow spots which at least stiffen a sense of pacing, through directorial dry spells whose thoughtfulness doesn't always work with writing which might be a little too tight to kick off in momentum. Quite frankly, where the direction hits its cold spells, the writing hits frantic bits which get a touch too close to reality, complete with fumbling and overwrought dialogue that I can appreciate for its intentions, but still find a bit annoying. The storytelling doesn't exactly keep a consistent grip on its kick, nor does it even keep consistent with focus that occasionally gets a touch too caught up in the supporting roles, or with tone which jars between prominent humor and rather weighty dramatics, both of which have cheesy extremes. Both the humor and dramatics are realistic, so much more than the humor is overblown, the dramatics are, at least within Delbert Mann's direction, whose heart begets plenty of genuineness, as well as plenty of saccharine sentimentality which a film this inspired should be above, and is partly diluted by. It's as if Mann carries an ambition to drive this film beyond its natural shortcomings, but that's something he simply cannot do, because the truth of the matter is that this story is paper-thin, with no big conflict or tribulations, just a humane, but simple portrait on life. The genuineness applied to the telling of such a simple story is sometimes near-powerful, enough for the final product to border on rewarding, but that position, alone, is miraculous, considering the simplicity of this story, whose telling's natural shortcomings are faint, but nonetheless present. The final product can only be what it is: inconsequential, but not forgettable, for there is enough heart to this endeavor to thoroughly endear, even in concept. Centered around an unattractive and shy middle-aged man (Well, it was middle-aged for the '50s, but Ernest Borgnine ended up being far from middle-aged) who falls for an unattractive and shy young woman whose warmth shines a light on his own value, this story is seriously simple, but inviting in its charm, and admittedly weighty with its themes on inner beauty and embracing life, especially through love. As I said, the ambition within Delbert Mann's direction is palpable, its subtle approach slowing down what momentum there is, - until punctuated by livelier spots which are often presented in the form of sappy sentimentality - but reflecting an honesty to the structure of each scene which immerses, enough so to keep engagement value adequate enough to make the heights in dramatic effectiveness endearing. There are plenty of touching moments, and if nothing can be said about the cheesy bits, they reflect an ambition and inspiration which keeps the heart of this human affair pumping, with seeds of inspiration resting in a solid script. If tonal unevenness and superficiality are present, then they derive from the direction, for Paddy Chayefsky's script, despite being unable to transcend natural shortcomings, offers sharp wit which livens up plenty of warm humor, and feels closely rooted in reality in a way which was very uncommon at this time when Hollywood ruled the business with its theatrics, and is still compelling by today's standards. This script is an early example of clever and grounded independent writing which offers some good laughs, but really thrives on its more human depths, which explores noble themes with audacity that goes so far as to touch upon human flaw and mortality, and which gets you invested in characters who could have come off as thin, considering the thinness of the story, and the film's potentially being too brief for all that much exposition, but feel just as richly defined as they are genuinely portrayed. From some convincing secondary, if not tertiary players, to the wise and human-feeling Esther Minciotti, most everyone delivers, and that especially goes for the leads who share dynamite chemistry, and offer individual effectiveness, with Betsy Blair endearing in her charming portrayal of a good-hearted woman who finally feels accepted, while leading man Ernest Borgnine really shines, utilizing a very realist, yet still very colorful charm which defines the titular Marty Piletti as a good man, until incorporating some emotive highlights which were ahead of the time, and really humanize the protagonist as an iconic representation of a human's inner beauty, and a compelling lead by his own right. If no one else drives this film, it is the revelatory Borgnine, whose charisma is so sparkling that it, combined with the heart of the storytellers, brings the final product to the brink of rewarding on the backs of inspiration and honesty, challenged by certain unavoidable shortcomings. Bottom line, slow spots and even a few annoying bits distance almost as much as a few focal and tonal inconsistencies, while a little overblown sentimentality emphasizes the natural shortcomings of a simple story that hold the final product shy of rewarding, but just barely, for there is enough value to the thematically worthy story, thoughtful direction, excellently sharp writing, and strong performances - especially one by Ernest Borgnine - to secure Delbert Mann's take on Paddy Chayefsky's "Marty" as an entertaining and touching, if thin portrait to the importance of inner beauty. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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