With an opening that’ll remind every bachelor of parties with their parents, prying relatives from corners of the world you have yet to visit trying to understand why you’ve not had the chance to settle down yet. Marty embodies that well, a reluctant bachelor who finds peace and harmony in his single lifestyle, working in a butcher’s shop whilst his friends and family pester him into engaging in a relationship. It showcases a man who has resigned himself to this lifestyle, admitting defeat in the face of an uphill struggle, and never bothering to climb this inevitably large mountain. It’s rather odd to see this pessimistic attitude put to film, but it’s the 50s, so of course love is just around the corner for the man who has given up all hope of finding a suitable partner.
Ernest Borgnine’s titular performance is a stupendous piece, a role that showcases the growing annoyance and eventual caving of a man content in his solitude. Soon, it becomes clear that it’s merely a façade. Marty is desperate for a wife. His brothers and sisters have already flown the nest, and as he enters the early years of his middle-age, he finds himself alone and isolated. Living with his mother, working, walking, and breathing in a life of seclusion, he seems to have retired from the romantic life. Spurred on by happenstance and rejection, he finds himself mingling with Clara Snyder (Betsy Blair).
There are some tremendous pieces of dialogue throughout Marty. The eponymous lead has wisdom up his sleeve, pouring his heart and soul into just about every argument he has with his mother or friends about his surrender to single life. He’s sick of the heartbreak, a man stuck between a rock and a hard place. The consistent barrage of scrutiny Marty is under is played well by Borgnine, who provides a succinct performance, one that captures the confusion and lusts of a man simply wanting to do right by his family and friends. That much is delivered well, solid chemistry with Blair aides this particularly well, but it drops the ball a little towards the end, feeling a bit repetitive and stale by the time those closing credits signal the end of our journey through Marty’s life.
Marty bounces between elation and depression rather rapidly throughout, either emotion shackled to the respective separate halves of the film. He steps on the toes of his younger brother from time to time, a man with a wife and new-born child. It shows a good comparison to how Marty lives his life, and how his brother does too. Marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, one of the few messages director Delbert Mann sprinkles into this Best Picture winner is that sometimes we’re happier alone than we are with a potential partner. That much may be true for some, but it isn’t for the characters within Marty, which provides a good time capsule experience for those interested in the social expectations of a mid-30s bachelor with no hope in sight.