By this time in his young career Ernest Borgnine had bullied Spencer Tracy and Broderick Crawford, beaten Frank Sinatra to death, tackled Randolph Scott and looked dangerous as one of Burt Lancaster’s crew in Vera Cruz. So why shouldn’t he be the perfect choice to play a kindly butcher looking after his Mom seemingly destined for a long lonely life as a confirmed bachelor.
Better yet, who’d have thought that Ernie would claim the coveted Academy Award as Best Actor in a field that included Tracy, Sinatra, Dean and Cagney?
I’ve always been a fan of Borgnine and have loved how he could ride the fine line between outright nasty characters in one performance and follow it up with angelic roles as he did memorably in a two part episode of the Little House on the Prairie. In Marty, Ernie plays it gentle. A man who has so much love to give but due to self esteem and his far from glamourous looks has given up on landing himself a wife. Perhaps he needs to meet a woman who feels the same about her fortunes when it comes to love and romance.
At ninety minutes in length, our story takes place over the course of a weekend following Ernie’s shift in the butcher shop coming to an end. It’s here that some of the local women will embarrass him about getting married. His brothers and sisters have all moved from the nest to start a family of their own and he’s now reached the age of 34. From work he’s off to the local beer joint to hang with his pals. Mainly Joe Mantell who also scored an Oscar nomination for his work here in the Best Supporting Actor category. Another confirmed bachelor looking for the trophy wife.
“I’ve been looking for a girl every Saturday night of my life. “
This is the reason Ernie gives for not wanting to embarrass himself anymore in the pursuit of love. He’d rather buy the butcher shop he works at and look after Mom and his Aunt who is moving in. But after Mom pushes him too far, he hooks up with Mantell and the pair are off to the Stardust Ballroom to check out the local gals. It’s here that Ernie will find himself ensnared into a cruel scenario put upon a very plain looking wallflower played by Betsy Blair. Yes love is in the air for Ernie when he strikes up a conversation with the timid twenty nine year old school teacher.
Peer pressure is sure to rear it’s ugly head when it’s determined that Betsy is not only a “dog” but she’s not Italian either. Yes Marty can be a cruel movie at times. Hopefully happiness will triumph by the final reel and Ernie and Betsy will discover that there is a love for each and everyone of us. We just need to recognize it when the opportunity presents itself and be bold enough to reach for it.
Sure times have changed and this is somewhat of a time capsule. One I’m sure might be sneered at by today’s audiences who are not a fan of classic cinema. But then there’s Ernie at the center of it all and unless you have no heart, then there is much to enjoy here. Aside from Ernie I loved the old world banter between his Mom (Esther Minciotti) and his Aunt (Augusta Ciolli). Lines like these crack me up having had some experience with old country values after marrying into a family of immigrants.
“College girls are one step from the street, I tell you. My son Joseph wife, she type on the typewriter – one step from the street! “
I also got a kick out of the Mike Hammer bits. Ernie and his trio of pals love Mickey Spillane’s character and how easily Hammer takes women as he pleases in the novels. Something they firmly believe they too are capable of. Aside from Ernie proving to be a winner, these pals are destined to a lifetime of losing in the art of love. Planned or not, there’s a clip where Ernie and Betsy pass an RKO movie theater. A quick freeze frame on the Kino Lorber blu ray edition revealed that playing on the big screen is Mickey Spillane’s film Ring of Fear. Coincidence? I’d say so since it’s not prominently on display and at the time of Marty’s release there was no freeze framing available.
Marty was brought to the screen by the producing team of Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster. To sell the film to audiences Burt uses his star power to introduce the film in the movie’s trailer. The film’s roots come from television where Rod Steiger played the title role from Paddy Chayefsky’s script. While Steiger didn’t make the jump to the big screen, Delbert Mann directed both the TV and theatrical versions of the film.
Like Ernie’s character, the movie triumphed against great odds. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and of course Best Actor. Along with Mantell, Betsy Blair also received a nomination but lost out to Jo Van Fleet for East of Eden. Mantell lost out to Jack Lemmon for Mister Roberts. For more on Ernie and his unlikely rise to prominence and the Academy Award, grab a copy of his easy to ready autobiography. It’s a window to this wonderful actor’s life who always seemed to appreciate his profession and rarely speaks a cross word about those he came into contact with over the course of his illustrious career.
I’ve always felt that a hearty smile and chuckle from Ernest Borgnine offers enough energy to light up a room. It has been an immense pleasure to have him on my TV screen for as long as I can remember.