81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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September 16th, 2009 · No Comments · 1955, Adaptation, Black and White, Comedy, Ernest Borgnine, Inciting Incident, Jerry Paris, Marty, Mid-Point, Paddy Chayefsky, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Screenplay Structure, United Artists

Marty What a sweet, kind-hearted movie!

Marty is the story of an overweight, average-looking, 34-year-old man who lives with his Italian mother, a lady who means well but who constantly harps on Marty to meet a girl and get married. Even Marty’s customers (he’s a butcher) tell him he should be married.

Inciting Incident: At around 14 minutes into the movie, Marty (Ernest Borgnine, 1917- ) calls a woman for a date. He gets turned down flat. He and his mom are at the dinner table, talking. She tells him to go to the Stardust Ballroom because “it’s loaded with tomatoes.”

Marty replies: “When you gonna give up? You got a bachelor on your hands. ‘Cuz I ain’t never gonna get married…whatever it is that women like, I ain’t got it. I got hurt enough. I don’t wanna get hurt no more. I just called up a girl this afternoon. I got a real brush-off, boy. I figured I was past the point of being hurt. But that hurt. No, Ma. I don’t wanna go to the Stardust Ballroom. I got feelings, you know. I had enough pain.”

Marty gets mad and yells at his mother for constantly chiding him about not being married, dying without a son, etc. But the exchange goads him into putting on his blue suit and going to the Stardust Ballroom, which he does with his friend Angie (Joe Mantell, 1920- ). Angie hooks up with a “tomato” and leaves Marty standing by himself.

Plot Point I: Twenty-seven minutes and 50 seconds into the movie (the perfect place for Plot Point I), Marty meets Clara Snyder (Betsy Blair, 1923-2009), a shy school teacher on a blind date with a jerk who ditched her for a girl who he thinks looks better.

This chance meeting happens when the turd guy approaches Marty (who’s standing by himself off to the side of the dance floor) to pawn off his date so he can be with someone else, “I got stuck on a blind date with a dog,” he tells Marty. “I’ll be glad to pay you five bucks if you take her home for me.”

Marty turns him down. But he watches the turd go up to another guy to make the same offer. Then, he watches them go over to Clara’s table, watches the guys leave. He sees Clara emotionally upset and alone at the table. She gets up to walk away, but unsure where to go or what to do, she dashes outside by herself. Marty follows her. A few seconds before 28 minutes into the movie, Marty asks Clara if she’d like to dance.

Why is that Plot Point I? Because it sets up major questions: “What happens next with these two? Will they stay together? Will they hit it off? Will Marty finally get married like everyone is telling him to do?”

This leads viewers (including me) into Act II in which those questions will be answered. But new problems will be encountered. That’s what Act II is for. It’s to ratchet up conflict.

But, first, let’s see if there’s a mid-point reversal or life-changing event. If there is it’ll happen between 40 minutes in and 50 minutes in. This is only a 91-minute movie. So mid way is 45 minutes. So let’s see if there’s a Mid Point.

Hmmm. Marty and Clara sit together in a cafe, talking about anything and everything. Marty admits that he has an opportunity to buy the butcher shop from his boss. But he’s not sure if he should. Clara tells him, “Marty, I’ve known you for three hours, but, I know you’re a good butcher. You’re an intelligent, decent, sensitive man. Well, I have a feeling about you…If you were one of my students I’d say to you go ahead and buy the butcher shop. You’re a good butcher.”

That conversation happens around 45 minutes into the movie. I have a feeling it’s the Mid Point. It sets up a lot of additional questions and possibilities. Marty and Clara seem to be hitting it off perfectly. He admits his innermost thoughts and fears to her. She offers him encouragement and support.

The next thing to watch for is Plot Point II, which should occur around the 60-70 minute mark.

At about 73 minutes into the movie, Marty’s cousin Tommy (Jerry Paris, 1925-1986), fresh off an argument with his wife, yells at him: “What do you want to buy a shop for, will ya tell me? You got a good job, no wife, and no responsibilities. For Pete’s sake you’re a single man with no responsibilities. Stay that way, boy. Take my advice.”

Marty’s been on cloud nine with Clara. But she said something to his mom when they first met that rubbed her the wrong way. So Marty’s mom is already predisposed against Clara. To make matters worse, the night Marty and Clara met, Marty was so excited that he forgot about his best friend Angie, leaving him behind at the Stardust Ballroom. So Angie spent the better part of the night searching for Marty. Somewhere close to 1am Angie spots Marty and Clara waiting for a bus. He marches up to them, snubs Clara and scolds Marty for abandoning him.

It’s obvious something is building, an unseen — and undeserved — force against Clara that culminates in the ultimate discouragement for Marty: His mother, at 78 minutes into the movie (I believe it’s Plot Point II), turns to him outside their church and says,

“I don’t like her…Don’t bring her up at the house no more…She don’t look Italian to me. There are plenty of nice Italian girls around.”

But it’s still not over.

After mass, Marty walks into a bar and the bartender says, “I hear you really got stuck with a dog last night.”

He sits at a booth with Ralph (Frank Sutton, 1923-1974) who tells Marty about the girls Marty missed out on the night before (when he was with Clara).

This sequence is like one long Plot Point II. Step by step, person by person (all within about a five-minute span) pressure builds on Marty, causing him to doubt himself, and Clara. Before he met Clara, everyone in his life told him he needed to meet a nice girl and get married. He finally met someone very special to him. But now everyone puts down his new love interest and makes Marty feel like there’s something wrong with her. (In effect, everyone’s self-centeredness is amplified and turned outward, contrasting sharply with Marty’s selflessness.) So he doesn’t call Clara and go out with her as he promised. Instead, he ends up hanging out on a street corner with his friends who don’t know what to do or where to go. Suddenly, Marty blurts out, “What am I crazy, or something? I got something good here! What am I hanging around with you guys for?”

The movie ends with Marty rushing into a bar and sitting down in the phone booth. He dials a phone, telling Angie he should be ashamed that he doesn’t have a wife at 33. Someone picks up the phone on the other end. “Hello, Clara…?” he says.

Roll credits.


Marty was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director (Delbert Mann, 1920-2007), Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine), and Best Writing, Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky, 1923-1981). It is a very, very briskly paced movie, chock-full of interesting characters, superb acting, and great writing by the legendary Paddy Chayefsky.

The entire movie takes place within a 24-48 hour span of time. It is a very tightly focused movie about relationships. It’s only and hour and a half long. But it feels like half that much time. This may very well be one of the fastest-moving movies I’ve ever seen.

One of the reasons for the movie’s pace is that it has a stage play feel to it, which gives it an economy of motion (and dialogue), and more emphasis on character than spectacle. According to the Wiki entry for the movie,

Marty is a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky which was telecast live May 24, 1953 on The Goodyear Television Playhouse with Rod Steiger in the title role. The 1955 film adaptation was directed by Delbert Mann, starring Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair.

I would like to have seen that broadcast. I think Ernest Borgnine was fantastic in this film. But Rod Steiger is a superb actor as well. It would be nice to compare and contrast the performances.

In case you missed it, the magic word “adaptation” appeared two paragraphs above. That means, with this film, Hollywood has adapted movies that were chosen as Best Picture 19 out of 28 times — a percentage of 68%.

I loved this movie.


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