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Best Picture Rewind: Marty

This Forgotten Best Picture Winner Is Worth Remembering

By Tom Houseman

March 14, 2012

Let me be blount. You will never be a guest voice on The Simpsons.

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Oscar bloggers don't have a lot to do between March and October, so that's the time we use to play catch-up, trying to shorten our list of movies we really should have seen by now. The number of Best Picture winning films that I haven't seen is depressingly long, which is why I'm making it my mission to shorten that list by as much as possible between now and when Oscar season revs up again.

The Movie
Marty, 1955, Directed by Delbert Mann, Written by Paddy Chayefsky

What it Won
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor Ernest Borgnine
Best Writing, Screenplay

Also Nominated For
Best Supporting Actor Joe Mantell
Best Supporting Actress Betsy Blair
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

Its Competition
Love is a Many-Splendered Thing
Mister Roberts
Picnic
The Rose Tattoo

Other Notable Nominees
Blackboard Jungle
To Catch a Thief
East of Eden
Guys and Dolls
The Man with the Golden Arm
Mr. Hulot's Holiday
Oklahoma
Rebel Without a Cause




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What I Brought Into It

Before I looked at its IMDb page I knew essentially one thing about Marty, which is that it is the subject of the trivia question that John Turturro's character is supposed to answer wrong on purpose in the movie Quiz Show. Marty was made during that span between the feel good '40s and the edgy '60s when Hollywood couldn't figure out what kind of movies to make. As a result, we ended up with some Best Picture nominees that did not stand the test of time, from The Greatest Show on Earth to Around the World in 80 Days to Gigi.

So I knew almost nothing about Marty going in (my girlfriend asked me what it was about and I said “Marty.” She didn't think that was as funny as I did). I gleaned that it was about a butcher, that it was based on a 1953 teleplay, and that it was written by the man who would go on to write one of the greatest screenplays of all time, Network. Also, it stars Ernest Borgnine, who played the weird old guy in Baseketball, so that's pretty awesome.

What I Took Out of It

Marty is an old-fashioned movie, which is not to say that it is dated, because its themes and ideas are still very relevant today. But it is the kind of movie that would never be made today. It is very low-concept with no action, few laughs, and almost complete lack of robots punching each other. What it is is one of the sweetest and most touching movies I've ever seen.

Marty is the kind of guy that nobody would make a movie about. “I set out in Marty to write a love story,” said Chayefsky, “the most ordinary love story in the world. I didn't want my hero to be handsome, and I didn't want the girl to be pretty.” Can you imagine pitching that story to a major studio today? Marty is a good guy, a nice guy, who works hard and is liked by everybody. But beneath his smile we see somebody desperately lonely. Thirty-four years old, he lives with his mother and all three of his younger siblings have moved out and gotten married. Everybody around him is pressuring him to get married, and he finally breaks down in front of his mother, admitting that he has given up on ever finding love. “And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it.”


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