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Marty

One of the smallest films ever to clean up at the Oscars, writer Paddy Chayefsky's 1955 kitchen-sink romance Marty walked off with four golden statuettes, sweeping Best Picture, Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine), Best Director (Delbert Mann), and Best Screenplay (Chayefksy, adapting from his play and earlier television adaptation). The premise is ever so simple: Marty, a Bronx butcher, is kind-hearted, but certainly not a looker. As such, he's all but given up on finding a wife — until he hooks up with Clara (Betsy Blair), a not-too-pretty-herself schoolteacher on the brink of her 30s and practically resigned to spinsterism. Without question, Marty is a dated piece of work, wrought in the Golden Age's obvious, melodramatic style, all text and no subtext, in which the too-self-aware characters unrealistically speak their minds with glib clarity and a generous helping of working-class poetry. It's also heartbreakingly perceptive, and, in its small way, heroic. Chayefsky ruthlessly zeroes in on the stifling misoginy of blue-collar bachelorhood, familial pressures to both settle down and yet never change, and the devastating limitations of romantic expectations and low self-esteem. While Mann's directing is as plain as his lead characters, with occasional bursts of unnecessarily harsh lighting and swells of irritating music, Ernest Borgnine bursts off the screen as a true star in the only way a guy who looks like Ernest Borgnine possibly could: by giving a knock-out, bravaura performance of tremendous heart. Blair, too, is very good, given that most of her performance involves hopeful glances and patient nodding as Marty tears on. Thankfully, Marty's dopey, yet very funny, theme song is relegated to the end credits: "It's been a year since we chug-a-lugged a beer/Marty, you must have a dame!" MGM's DVD is a solid release. Although the packaging states that the film has been modified to fit the screen, it's the negligible transformation from the original 1.37:1 to the disc's 1.33:1 ratio. Audio is in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0. Includes an amusing trailer, cheerfully hosted by producer Burt Lancaster. Keep case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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