Ernest Borgnine won his only Oscar for playing Marty Piletti.
Marty has the distinction of being the shortest best picture winner, but the film is also one of the most beautiful of its category. The film is honest and rarely comes off as trying hard to be “deep”, and yet it covers a wide-range of themes despite its simplicity: the different cultures and values of the Italians, the idea of unconditional love, the prejudice against people of a lower socio-economic class. I know some people criticise the sub-plot involving Marty’s cousin and his mother as the problem wasn’t really “resolved”, and yet it reflects a reality faced by many families, even today. The film is a fantastic, heartbreaking and thought-provoking one that I highly recommend. Betsy Blair was also truly great and she might even have deserved that Oscar over Jo Van Fleet.
A large part of why Marty works is because of Ernest Borgnine’s performance as the titular character. Marty is a fairly simple character; he is full of heart and kindness, which Borgnine portrays beautifully, but at the same time there is always an internal pain and sadness that you can see from his eyes and body language. Right from the beginning, we can see Marty constantly being nagged at for still being single. While he appears nonchalant, it is clear how hurt he is by the constant badgering, and how his insecurities always seep through when his mother tells him to get married.
Things change when Marty meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a plain schoolteacher who got abandoned by her blind date. Borgnine portrays Marty’s kindness with so much honesty and heart that one can’t help but smile during the entire sequence they were walking and chatting together. His excitement, his earnestness and his non-stop rambling are all excellently portrayed by Borgnine, and his chemistry with Blair is also very realistic and moving. I was rooting for them, and despite the brevity of their meeting, it is instantly believable that they are a match made for each other. There was also a particular moment in the film where Marty confessed to Clara that he once had suicidal thoughts after he left the army; it was such a dark and heartbreaking moment, and yet you always feel that Clara is such a warm presence needed to balance out the darkness in Marty’s life.
Borgnine handles Marty’s transformation so naturally and believably, it somewhat reminds me of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, one of my favourite film performances of all time. Yes, they are different characters, but both actors handle their roles with so much naturalism and truthfulness in their acting that you don’t realise how much their characters have changed by the end of the film (unlike some actors who deliberately highlight the character’s change in their acting to the audience). Marty becomes a more romantic person who becomes more true to himself and his desires, and realises that he has to live for himself, rather than for his mother and his friends. Borgnine portrays the internal conflict of the character so brilliantly that you get this instant satisfaction when he finally decides to continue pursuing his relationship with Clara at the end of the film.
“You don’t like her, my mother don’t like her, she’s a dog and I’m a fat, ugly man! Well, all I know is I had a good time last night! I’m gonna have a good time tonight! If we have enough good times together, I’m gonna get down on my knees and I’m gonna beg that girl to marry me! If we make a party on New Year’s, I got a date for that party. You don’t like her? That’s too bad!”
p.s. Term’s over! But I’ll come back to blogging full time only after the exams.