Ah, love. When mid-February hits, our thoughts turn to romance, dreaming of the Valentine we have, or wish we had. If Oscar celebrated holidays, he’d probably have us watch Marty on Valentine’s Day.
I’m not entirely sure what it is I associate with Ernest Borgnine, but romance is certainly not it. And yet, he gives an endearing performance here as a guy luckless in love who finally finds it. Somewhere I saw this movie described as one about ordinary people falling in love, and I think that’s what I find so charming about it.
Borgnine is the eponymous Marty, a guy who is 34 and has essentially given up on finding the girl of his dreams. (If this were a slightly different film, you might wonder why Marty is so suspiciously uninterested in ladies, but I guess that’s for the remake.) On some last-ditch effort, he meets Clara, a schoolteacher who has somehow reached the ungodly age of 29 without getting hitched. They’re like the last two lepers at the colony. Meanwhile, in a subplot, Marty’s cousin finds living with his wife, new baby, and mother a tad agonizing.
As I’ve suggested in the past, I don’t know much about playwriting in the 20th century, but Marty really feels like its foundation rests on the stage. There are limited scenes and locations – Marty’s house, the dance hall, the late-night streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx (apparently this story falls somewhere prior to the eras of rampant crime and hipsters on the streets). The story itself takes place over the course of about 24 hours. That container gives it a sense of an enclosed world, in a good way. I’m a little unsure how much of this film depends on Italian immigrant culture and how much is 1950s courtship culture, but either way makes for an interesting anthropological study. I also loved the dialogue in the movie – the little tics of working class New Yorker speech, the subtle humor of some of the lines.
To be fair, the message of the movie, if you think about it too hard, is a bit bleak. Everybody refers to Marty’s love interest – and I’m no expert, but she seems to be on the pretty side of normal to me – as a dog. It’s a strange, unconvincing plot point. His friends try to convince him to move on to something better, his mother and aunt reject her (one of whom says, in one of the best ironic-today-but-unclear-how-ironic-then lines in the film, “College girls are one step from the street.”). But will he listen to them, or follow his heart?
Fortunately, it’s Valentine’s Day, so we can believe that love conquers all.
Theme: New York romance
First Time Watching? First time I even heard of it.
Final Verdict: Not such a dog as it thinks it is.