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Marty (1955)


Marty Piletti is the most famous butcher in film history. A simple guy from the Bronx who knows that "whatever it is that women like, I don't got it," he's facing a lifetime of loneliness living with his mother and hanging out with his unmarried friends every night. Then he forces himself to attend a dance at the Stardust Ballroom where he meets Clara, a Brooklyn schoolteacher who's been dumped by her date. As they commiserate, he discovers a warm caring heart in this rejected woman, only to find his mother and friends don't think she's good enough for him. Can he stand up for the woman he loves or will he sacrifice his future to comply with peer pressure?


Director: Delbert Mann
Producer: Harold Hecht, Burt Lancaster
Screenplay: Paddy Chayefsky
Adapted from his television play
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editing: Alan Crosland, Jr.
Art Direction: Ted Haworth, Walter M. Simonds
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Ernest Borgnine (Marty Piletti), Betsy Blair (Clara), Joe Mantell (Angie), Esther Minciotti (Mrs. Piletti), Karen Steele (Virginia), Jerry Paris (Tommy), Augusta Ciolli (Aunt Catherine), Paddy Chayefsky (Leo), Jerry Orbach (Ballroom Extra), Glenn Strange (Bit), Minerva Urecal (Mrs. Rosari)
BW -90 m.

Why MARTY is Essential

Marty was the first major Hollywood film adapted from a television play. After years during which the studios fought competition from the small screen, producers Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster showed the big studios that they could use their competitors as a source of scripts and even talent, as demonstrated when they hired the show's original writer, director and some cast members.

The film also marked the rising prominence of low-budget, independent production. Its high profit margin and Oscar® success pointed to a future in which independent producers could create a stir without the backing of the major studios' contract talent or publicity machines.

After years of losing upscale audiences to art houses featuring more realistic, small-scale films from overseas, Marty showed that American filmmakers could work in that vein as well, setting the stage for the increasing prominence of independent production in the U.S. and similar films from such major studios as MGM and 20th Century-Fox. Cementing the U.S.'s position as a competitor with European art-house productions was the film's win at the Cannes Film Festival, which had not named an American film as its best in ten years.

Although it did not bring huge profits to United Artists, it helped build the studio's reputation as a haven for daring independent producers. By the '50s, the studio had seen the decline of most of its major producers, including David O. Selznick and co-founder Charles Chaplin. With the success of Marty, however, UA became the first stop for independent producers out to turn their dreams into reality.

The film brought television writer Paddy Chayefsky to the big screen. This was the first of his television plays adapted to the movies, followed soon after by The Catered Affair (1956) and The Bachelor Party (1957). He would become the first writer to win three Best Screenplay Oscars® without benefit of a collaborator, winning for Marty, The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976). That feat would later be matched by Woody Allen.

One of the film's most realistic elements is the casting. Producers Hecht and Lancaster eschewed Hollywood names and big-screen glamour to cast relative unknowns in most of the roles. In addition, they cast character actor Ernest Borgnine in the title role. The film's box office success and his Oscar® win for Best Actor made Borgnine one of the first Hollywood stars since the early '30s to make it on talent rather than looks, setting the stage for later unconventional film stars like Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.

Marty was one of the first films whose producers campaigned extensively for the Academy Awards®. Producer Harold Hecht in particular lavished money on an advertising campaign and screening parties in private homes -- for which he provided prints, projectionists and refreshments. When the film won Best Picture it set the standard for Oscar® campaigns that continues to this day.

By Frank Miller

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Marty (1955)

Marty was the first American film shown in the Soviet Union since World War II, sent there in 1959 as part of a cultural exchange program.

In 1991 the film was remade for Italian television with Renzo Palmer in the title role.

The same year, writer-director Chris Columbus incorporated plot elements from Marty in his romantic comedy Only the Lonely, starring John Candy, Maureen O'Hara, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Quinn.

Marty was voted a place on the National Film Registry in 1994.

Disgusted with a do-nothing Congress, Rep. Barney Frank once said, "We are less busy than the guys in Marty, standing around on the corner: Whadda you wanna do tonight?' 'I don't know. Whadda you wanna do tonight?'" (Barney Frank, quoted in Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life)

Variety first announced plans to create a musical version for Broadway in 1996, with Jason Alexander attached to play the title role. When he dropped out because of other commitments, the project fell by the wayside.

A musical version of Marty played in Boston in 2002. Rupert Holmes wrote the book with music and lyrics by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse. John C. Reilly starred as Marty.

By Frank Miller

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Marty (1955)

Writer Paddy Chayefsky first made his name in television. He began writing for producer Fred Coe and The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1949 with an adaptation of Budd Schulberg's Hollywood-set novel What Makes Sammy Run?

His second Philco script, The Reluctant Citizen (1953), was rehearsing in the Abbey Hotel's ballroom, where the staff was setting up for a Friday night Friendship Club meeting. When Chayefsky noticed a sign reading "Girls, Dance With the Man Who Asks You. Remember, Men Have Feelings, Too," it gave him the idea for a play about a young woman attending a neighborhood dance like that. As he discussed it with Mann, he decided it would be more interesting to focus on a man in that setting. He then pitched it to Coe with the line, "I want to do a play about a guy who goes to a ballroom." (Paddy Chayefsky, quoted in Tom Stempel, Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing.) He would later say he set out to make Marty "the most ordinary love story in the world." (Chayefsky, "Two Choices of Material," Television Plays)<

Chayefsky created the leading role for his friend Martin Ritt, who would become a director in later years. He even named the role after Ritt. By the time the script was done, however, Ritt had been blacklisted for alleged Communist sympathies. That opened the door for Rod Steiger to play the part.

Marty aired live May 24, 1953, to glowing reviews. Mann directed a cast that included, along with Steiger, Nancy Marchand, Esther Minciotti, Joe Mantell, Augusta Ciolli, Betsy Palmer, Lee Philips, Nehemiah Persoff and George Maharis.

  • The television play won both the Donaldson and Sylvania awards for Best Drama.

    Chayefsky had attempted writing for Hollywood in the late '40s with little success, though he had become friends with agent Harold Hecht. By the '50s, Hecht had moved into film production teamed with one of his biggest clients, actor Burt Lancaster. Eager to work with Chayefsky and wanting to produce a film that would be distinct from Lancaster's run of action-adventures, he had Norma Productions, a subsidiary of Hecht-Lancaster Productions, pick up the teleplay's screen rights. This was one of the first times a television drama had been bought for film adaptation. Rumors persist, despite no supporting evidence, that Hecht and Lancaster set out to make the film expecting it to fail and provide them with a tax write-off against more lucrative projects.

    In January 1954, Hecht-Lancaster struck a distribution deal with United Artists, long a haven for independent production. The deal was not without problems. Initially, UA pushed them to cast a major star like Marlon Brando in the lead. To get the picture done their way, Lancaster had to threaten to cancel his deal for other pictures there. At the time, UA was going through a rough patch, with only Samuel Goldwyn producing big box-office pictures for them. Knowing the deal with Hecht-Lancaster was a major feather in their cap, they gave in.

    Not trusting the Hollywood system, Chayefsky made unprecedented demands for a first time screenwriter. He wanted exclusive control of the script, casting approval and a directing job for Mann, who had never made a film before. Surprisingly, Hecht and Lancaster acceded to all his demands.

    To expand his one-hour teleplay to feature length, Chayefsky added scenes about Marty's career and his relationships with his mother and sister. He also made the leading lady's role somewhat larger, though a scene showing Clara with her parents after she first meets Marty was cut from the release print, only to be restored in some home video versions.

    There are two different stories explaining why Steiger did not re-create his television role for the big screen. The actor claimed that he decided not to make the movie, because the producers wanted to tie him up with a long-term contract. Hecht and Lancaster always held that they chose not to cast him for box-office reasons. They didn't think people would pay to see him in the role after having seen him for free on television.

    Unsure who to cast in the leading role once Steiger was eliminated, Delbert Mann asked his friend and fellow director Robert Aldrich for advice. Aldrich suggested Ernest Borgnine, though Mann hesitated at first since the actor was primarily known for playing villainous roles like Fatso in From Here to Eternity (1953). When Borgnine read for the part, he moved both Mann and Chayefsky, who was reading the mother's lines, to tears.

    In another story about Borgnine's casting, Lancaster told the Hollywood Reporter that he had wanted to cast the actor in one of his productions since working with him on From Here to Eternity. When he saw Marty on television, Lancaster knew he had found his friend the perfect part.

    Although Steiger was out, Mann was able to cast Minciotti, Ciolli and Mantell, all of whom had appeared in the original television production.

    Hecht would later tell the press that he had set up the production planning to cast lesser-known actors in the leading roles. He felt using unfamiliar actors had paid off in recent European films and felt the time was ripe to try it in the U.S.

    Initially, Nancy Marchand was to make her big-screen debut reprising her performance as Clara, but Gene Kelly's wife, Betsy Blair, campaigned hard for the role. United Artists and producers Hecht and Lancaster initially refused because she was blacklisted for her liberal activism. Then Kelly took up the battle. He swore he would never work for any of them if they didn't give her the role, and then got MGM to help him exert pressure by refusing to make his next film for them. Finally, MGM production chief Dore Schary called the American Legion to personally vouch for Blair, effectively removing her from the blacklist. Ironically, Kelly's next MGM film, It's Always Fair Weather (1955), was a box office disappointment.<

    By Frank Miller

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    Marty (1955)

    Marty started production in October 1954 with location shooting in The Bronx. Among the local landmarks used in the film are The Grand Concourse and the IRT Third Avenue El. The scene behind the opening credits is Arthur Avenue in The Bronx, in front of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Interiors were shot in December at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.

    Mann cast Paddy Chayefsky to play the three-line role of Leo. The director claimed they didn't have time to hire an extra for the role. Chayefsky would later complain that the $140 he had to pay to join the Screen Actors Guild to play the role was higher than the $67 union scale he was paid for it.

    Partway through production United Artists threatened to pull the plug because other Hecht-Lancaster films were over budget. According to Ernest Borgnine, the studio's accountants saved the film by pointing out that under new tax laws they had to complete Marty and show it at least once before they could write it off as a tax loss.

    With no major stars in the film, Lancaster decided to appear in the theatrical trailer so that audiences would be introduced to the picture by a major box-office name.

    The film's tagline highlighted its positive reviews: "EVERYBODY'S RAVING ABOUT "MARTY"The year's BIG entertainment surprise a warm and human story with characters you'll love and remember!"

    United Artists was willing to burn the film off as a second feature, but Chayefsky insisted it have some kind of first-run engagement, so it premiered at the Sutton Theatre in New York, normally a venue for art films. Hecht-Lancaster's New York publicity chief, Bernie Kamber, conducted a personal campaign for the film, setting up private screenings and convincing major press outlets to feature it positively. His biggest coup was getting influential columnist Walter Winchell to hail the film as one of the biggest sleepers in Hollywood history. The slow build in viewership began with strong reviews. Then the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, generating more press and more box office. As a result, it played 39 weeks at the Sutton to mostly packed houses. For subsequent openings, United Artist scheduled two weeks of screenings in various markets for community leaders to generate positive word of mouth. The move paid off, for though the film could not compete with the major studios' big blockbusters, it made a small profit in its initial release. That was helped by its success at the Academy Awards®, which led United Artists to reissue it to 5,000 theatres.

    Marty holds the distinction of being one of the few films whose advertising budget ($400,000) exceeds its production cost ($343,000).

    By Frank Miller

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    teaser Marty (1955)

    Studio executives in Hollywood during the mid-fifties evaluated the prospects for a big-screen rendition of Paddy Chayefsky's acclaimed teleplay Marty (1955) in very much the same way that the story's hero was sized up by the girls he'd approach at the Stardust Ballroom. That is, to be rejected as a loser after a cursory once-over. A story with no name stars, about two painfully ordinary people spending an evening talking, that America got to see for free on television a few years before? Where's the box-office in that?

    From the time of its original airdate on NBC's Goodyear Television Playhouse, Marty had a champion in producer Harold Hecht, who had been Burt Lancaster's agent, and after the post-war change of the studio/star system, his production partner. Hecht had known Chayefsky since the writer's initial, unsatisfactory foray into Hollywood in the late '40s, and was certain of Marty's potential. Chayefsky, stung by his previous experiences, demanded unprecedented concessions -- exclusivity on the rewrites, full consultation on casting, the right to name original TV director Delbert Mann to the project -- and to his great surprise, got them.

    When Rod Steiger balked at the seven-year services contract that came attached to the chance to reprise his broadcast role, Hecht and Chayefsky had to find themselves another Marty. They had to look no further than the set of the then-shooting Hecht/Lancaster production Vera Cruz (1954), where Ernest Borgnine was portraying another in the string of sadistic thugs to which he'd been typed.

    Borgnine recalled his reading for Chayefsky and Mann to Shaun Considine in Mad As Hell: The Life and Work of Paddy Chayefsky (Random House): "I turned away because I had started to cry.... When I turned back to Paddy, who was playing the mother, I saw he was crying too. And out of the corner of my eye, I could see Del was also close to tears. That gave me the most wonderful feeling in my life; to think I had accomplished something that could affect people this way." Indeed, Borgnine would deliver a heartbreakingly honest performance that still stands as the best of his career.

    Chayefsky expanded upon his simple story of a pleasant, portly Italian butcher from the Bronx who could be resigned to his unluckiness at love if he wasn't always constantly hectored by everyone from his smothering mother (Esther Minciotti) to his clientele to find a nice girl and settle down. His social life consists of hanging out with similarly aimless, aging bachelors, whose circular banter ("I dunno. Whatta you want to do tonight?") would go on to become a part of Americana.

    During a typical Saturday night spent wallflowering at a dance hall, Borgnine looks on incredulously as a shy schoolteacher (Betsy Blair) is callously dumped by her date. After his gentle overture, the pair talk the evening away, find themselves connecting over their similarly unhappy situations, and part with Borgnine's promise to get together tomorrow. Borgnine, however, finds himself cowed by the admonitions of his mother and the jeers of his buddies, each of whom were unimpressed by the plain Blair. Faced with the prospect of an empty future, the gentle butcher is finally backed into a stand of doing what's right for him.

    Amazingly enough, the plug was almost pulled on Marty midway through production, as United Artists became concerned with cost overruns on larger-budgeted, higher-profile Hecht/Lancaster productions then on the boards. Borgnine recalled that the film solely owes its existence to accounting advice: "Their tax man told them that there was a new tax law that said you have to finish the picture, show it once, and then you can shelve it. So they said, 'O.K., finish it.'"

    The UA brass was sufficiently happy with the quality of the finished product to promote it as a second feature, but Chayefsky was adamant about giving Marty an art-house opening in Manhattan. The reviews were glowing and the New York receipts excellent, but the picture struggled when it opened in other cities, in part because of the film's urban setting and in part because there was no funding left for promotion.

    The film's salvation came when it received the nod to become the American entry shown at that year's Cannes Film Festival. In addition to receiving the Office Catholique International Cinema award, Marty became the first U.S. film to ever take the Festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or. UA tripled its promotional budget, and the film would go on to garner the Best Picture Academy Award, as well as Oscars for Borgnine, Chayefsky and Mann.

    Producer: Harold Hecht, Burt Lancaster
    Director: Delbert Mann
    Screenplay: Paddy Chayefsky
    Art Direction: Ted Haworth, Walter M. Simonds
    Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
    Editing: Alan Crosland, Jr.
    Music: Roy Webb, George Bassman
    Principal Cast: Ernest Borgnine (Marty Pilletti), Betsy Blair (Clara Snyder), Esther Minciotti (Mrs. Pilletti), Augusta Ciolli (Aunt Catherine), Joe Mantell (Angie), Karen Steele (Virginia), Jerry Paris (Tommy).

    by Jay Steinberg

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    Marty (1955)

    Marty brought in over $3 million at the box office. That may not seem like much, even compared to other releases of the day, but since the film only cost $343,000 to make, it remains one of the most profitable films in history.

    "If Marty is an example of the type of material that can be gleaned, then studio story editors better spend more time at home looking at television." -- Ronald Holloway, Variety

    "...Marty makes a warm and winning film, full of the sort of candid comment on plain, drab people that seldom reaches the screen. And Ernest Borgnine as the fellow and Betsy Blair as the girl...give performances that burn into the mind." -- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

    "Ernest Borgnine as Marty lives up to all the promise he showed as the sadist in From Here to Eternity [1953], and at the same time brilliantly shatters the type-cast he molded for himself in that picture." -- Time

    "...we have here a picture about the Little People in which, I am sincerely convinced, the Little People -- Bronxites, butchers, Brooklyn school-teachers, Italian-Americans, concealed Jews, hot dogs, post-adolescent girl-haters, fat ones, short ones, 'ugly' ones, 'lonely' ones -- are treated like so much dirt....What right, indeed, has Mr. Chayevsky [sic.], or anyone else, to suppose that anything is served by having two of the lonely ones reach for peace and plentitude by exchanging grotesque confidences about how neither of them is really the dog he or she has always presumed himself or herself to be? (Try that one on your girl sometime, for size....)" - Jerry Tallmer, The Village Voice


    Before awards season even started, Marty scored at the Cannes Film Festival, taking the Palme d'Or in a surprise win. It was the first American film to top the prestigious festival since The Lost Weekend in 1945, and that film was one of seven winners. Leading lady Betsy Blair was named Best Actress and Ernest Borgnine split Best Actor honors with Spencer Tracy, the latter for Bad Day at Black Rock (1955).

    With that kind of backing, the film kicked off awards season by capturing the two major critics awards at the time -- the National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor.

    Marty may have been too small to capture the attention of the Hollywood Foreign Press, which honored Ernest Borgnine's performance but gave its Best Motion Picture - Drama award to East of Eden (1955).

    The picture picked up steam again when the year's craft awards were announced, with Paddy Chayefsky capturing the Writers Guild Award and Delbert Mann named Best Director by the Directors Guild.

    For a low-budget film, Marty performed extremely well in the Academy Awards®, picking up eight nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Joe Mantell and Best Supporting Actress for Betsy Blair. It won four Oscars®, but they were the big ones: Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture.
    Borgnine and Blair also won the British Film and Television Academy's awards for Best Foreign Actor and Actress.

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