Ten Decades of Oscars: MARTY (1955)

Welcome back! We’re a little late this week due to scheduling but that’s fine! I am totally managing this ten films per week thing! Managing it like Batman manages grief. And this year’s Oscar nominations came out today and I’ve only seen two of the eight Best Picture nominees—it’s fine! I’m fine! Let’s talk about the 50s!

It’s been lovely to watch American cinema mature from the stilted, encased environments of the 1940s to the camera-choreographed openness of the 1950s. Films that are still impressively epic today like THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957), which was my favourite entering this decade and is still my favourite upon leaving it. But even the willingness to shoot on location in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) and ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) not only shows the progression of film technology which granted crews to leave studio backlots, but the determination of American cinema tastemakers to capture realism in every frame. And today’s feature, which was a first-watch for me, is another that benefits from that scarry indie approach to filmmaking on location: MARTY (1955).

MARTY is the sore thumb winner of its decade. Most of this decade awarded prestige pictures—giants of cinema that convinced the population to keep visiting the movie theatre after they just splurged on their first television. But MARTY is a quiet, ninety-minute jaunt spotlighting a homely man on the precipice of surrender for a happily married life. We follow Marty through his slog of a routine from work at the butcher shop to bickering with his friend on what they should do tonight to dinner with his mother while she berates him about finding a wife. Ernest Borgnine plays this part beautifully and with so much heart. He’s depressed but not insufferable. He’s got ambitions but he’s uncertain. He’s kind but he’s exhausted from loneliness. It’s a complicated and well-wrought portrait.

Most of the film follows Marty and a girl he meets after being shoved out the door to a night club. They walk the streets of New York until the late hours talking and bonding, but both of them all the while unsure of their footing, too battle-scarred from past disappointments and heartbreaks. It’s a tender and enchanting chemistry, and this small fixed point of the human condition is as wide as our scope gets. Here, surrounded by lavish musicals and expensive epics, sits MARTY—an uncomplicated film about the complicated everyday of our existence. This film as a winner shocks me, and reminds me of the sensibilities the Academy may hold now by awarding films like MOONLIGHT. But for 1955? This is such a gem in an otherwise sprawling decade of entertainment by excess. Sadly, MARTY isn’t discussed much to this day. It’s obscured under massive shadows, but it deserves more attention. If you find the chance, give ninety minutes to MARTY.

Short but sweet this week—like MARTY! My God, it rhymes! Eat your heart out, George Lucas! Join me next week when we delve into the 1960s. The contestants are:

THE APARTMENT
WEST SIDE STORY
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
TOM JONES
MY FAIR LADY
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
OLIVER!
MIDNIGHT COWBOY

MARTY is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber, which is how it was viewed for this review, or via digital purchase on Apple TV or Google Play.

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