Vintage Movies: “Marty”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Marty (1955, 90 minutes)

“Hey, Marty, whaddaya feel like doin’ tonight?” “I dunno, Angie, what do you feel like doin’?” answers Marty Piletti, a stocky, 34-year-old Italian-American butcher and resigned bachelor who lives with his mother in the Bronx. It’s the same old conversation Marty (Ernest Borgnine) and his best pal Angie (Joe Mantell) have every weekend. You can almost hear Frank Sinatra crooning, “Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week” in the background.

Marty’s been taking heat from all sides lately, first from a customer at the butcher shop as he’s carving her a flank steak: “When you gonna get married, Marty? You should be ashamed of yourself when all your brothers are married and have children.” He’s also been getting an earful from his mother (Esther Minciotti) about spending all his nights at home. “Whatever it is that women like, I ain’t got it,” Marty snaps at his mother.

But mama has other ideas. Marty’s cousin has told her of a “nice place” where he might meet girls. “Tommy says you should go to the Stardust Ballroom down on 72nd Street. It’s ‘loaded with tomatoes.'” Chuckling at the hip vegetable reference, Marty explains he’s been there many times with no success. “I’m just a fat little man. I’m ugly. I’ll stay home tonight and watch The Hit Parade on TV.”

With no better prospects, Marty and Angie wind up going “stag” to the Stardust. After getting cold-shouldered by a potential dance partner, Marty is approached by a man with a roving eye who offers him five bucks if he’ll “take this dog off my hands.” The rejected blind-date is Clara (Betsy Blair), a 29-year-old schoolteacher from Brooklyn, who tells Marty she’s been to the Stardust before and “spent an hour and a half with my hands in my lap.”

Unlikely matchmaking is a scenario Hollywood has used often, most recently in Jack Goes Boating with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan. The pairing of Marty and Clara, in her string-tie and Peter Pan collar, strikes sparks. “I’ve begun to cry a lot lately,” admits Clara while they’re dancing. “Me too, I’m a big crier,” says Marty, with a girl in his arms, at last. Marty talks incessantly as the pair goes out for a bite to eat. “You get kicked around long enough, and you get to be a professor of pain,” he rambles. “Maybe dogs like us ain’t such dogs as we think we are. You know, you’ve got a real nice face.”

Playing Marty was a complete character reversal for Borgnine, seen as “Fatso” Judson, the leering, gap-toothed stockade sergeant who enjoyed brutalizing a skinny little Frank Sinatra in 1953’s From Here To Eternity. Two years later, Marty nabbed four Oscars, including best picture and the best actor award for the versatile Borgnine.