As much heart-warming romance as thought-provoking character study, the multiple award-winning MARTY is one of Ernest Borgnine’s finest moments of his career… playing a socially awkward butcher from the Bronx who gets harassed by his mother and other relatives to tie the knot and settle down.

All easier said than done because Italo-American Marty Piletti, a 34-year old bachelor (Borgnine was 38 at the time of filming), would like nothing more than a girlfriend. Fact is that not only is he getting on but he’s not exactly blessed with good looks either: stocky and – by his own account – ugly, it’s fair to say that he lack of self-esteem has left his somewhat disillusioned when it comes to romance, despite the fact that he has a heart of gold. Especially his well-meaning mother (Esther Minciotti) makes it clear that she would like to see him getting married; after all, his other siblings are all married with kids. In order to please his ‘mama’ Marty reluctantly agrees to trot along to the Stardust Ballroom on a Saturday evening in the hope of perhaps finding a nice girl to ask for a dance (this was 1955… way before speed-dating!) and perhaps even more.

To make matters worse, Marty’s bickering aunt Catherine (Augusta Ciolli) is at loggerheads with her daughter-in-law Virginia (Karen Steele) who is fed up sharing the marital apartment not only with her husband Tommy (Jerry Paris) and their infant but also with Tommy’s ‘mama’ Catherine… who, like most mothers-in-law, always knows everything better. Marty’s mother arranges for her sister Catherine to move into her big house which she shares only with Marty.
Already in a foul mood over all the family quarrels going on around him Marty is certain he won’t find much joy at the Stardust Ballroom either… but due to sheer coincidence he happens to meet Clara (Betsy Blair), a timid and deeply insecure school teacher who just had been stood up by her blind date. Miraculously Marty and Clara click and overjoyed he invites her back to his house for a cup of coffee where the magic almost comes to an abrupt end when she refuses his attempt to kiss her. A short time later Marty’s mother returns and takes and instant dislike to the University-educated Clara who makes it clear that she thinks married couples should not live under the same roof with their in-laws. To end the awkward situation Marty offers Clara to see her home but promises her to ring her the next day for the movies.

The next day after mass (the Piletti’s are god-fearing Italian Catholics) Marty’s mum expresses her disapproval of Clara who she considers too old, too ugly and above all, not Italian enough to marry her treasured son! Likewise, Marty’s best mate Angie (Joe Mantell) also expresses his disapproval of Clara, calling her “a dog and a real nothing”. The fact that at the time of filming Betsy Blair was married to heartthrob Gene Kelly weakens the argument that we are dealing with a deliberately plain looking actress – in fact Blair was too attractive to pass for an on-screen wallflower.
Marty is torn between his feelings for Clara and the disapprovals from others and doesn’t ring her, but when he realizes that Angie is in fact jealous because Marty finally found a girl while his mum only puts Clara down out of fear to lose her son he has a change of mind and decides to follow his heart and not what others dictate him to do…
Both Borgnine and Blair are terrific as two lost souls who are socially awkward and who are both getting on with age. Nowadays it seems ridiculous that someone aged 29 and 34 embarks on a panic trip if still not married but times where different then.

This Dual Format edition also offers screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s original Teleplay of MARTY from 1953. Here it is Rod Steiger in the role of Marty while Nancy Marchand (who, in contrast to Betsy Blair, really wasn’t much too look at) plays Clara. Other parts are played by some of the same actors than in the 1955 movie version, in particular Esther Minciotti as Marty’s mum and Joe Mantell as Angie. Obviously the movie version comes across more polished (and with a better sound quality) but it’s interesting to watch two different actors (Steiger and Borgnine) playing Marty.