Marty deals with the plights of unattractive people as they go through an already rough life filled with grind and strife and more monetary problems than Bangladesh! It's not a tragedy, but it's not a happy life, either, and director Delbert Mann handles Marty's life with a seriousness and a true honesty and compassion for both Marty himself and for Clara who is in the same deep water as Marty is.
Ernest Borgnine's title character is an overweight butcher who looks... a lot like Ernest Borgnine. He has friends and has his mother, but has little else besides constant scorn from all sides from people who think there's something wrong with him not being married at 34. All of his siblings are married, yet he lives at home with his mother. It's not that he doesn't try, but he is left with little illusion about why he is lonely. In spite of his mother's encouragement he still considers himself a "Fat, little man.... A fat, ugly man!" Borgnine is amazing in the role. He could so easily have played such lines for laughs, but he doesn't. He is so sincere that it's almost heartbreaking to see him crushed under the boot of society (and his own heel at times).
One remarkable scene features his attempt telephone a woman for a date. The conversation is filmed purely on his side and her responses are only implied, but Borgnine's acting translates her silence into volumes. You can see him breaking down level after level in a palpable disintegration of his emotions. You feel what Marty feels because Borgnine feels what Marty feels. He doesn't play a part, he becomes Marty! Make your jokes... Borgnine is beautiful!
This is a very sad story, however, there are plenty of laughs, and plenty of happy moments. Most of these surround Clara (Blair) a spinster whom Marty meets by accident at a singles bar he was forced into attending. The two find themselves clicking on the same levels because they've been ground down by the societal boots of the same bastards. Anyone who's been under that boot can relate to the absolute gushing of emotion that transpires finding someone to relate to for the first time in years. Borgnine plays the excited boy as well as he does the ground down sad clown.
Blair is also quite good with the silent expressions. She shows how hard it is for her to deal with life, even when she's forced to put the best face forward she conveys her pain and we feel it for her! Their relationship kicks off so quickly and any missteps (on Marty's part) can be excused as the action of the film takes place all within 48 hours. How do Marty's friends react to his new excitement? Pretty much with disdain. Marty isn't rooted for or encouraged when he gets happy... it's the old drinkin' buddy to be lonely with on a Saturday that they all seem to want! Even his mother's encouraging words change to cloudy skies when faced with her own loneliness.
There are a couple of things that do work against the film... but they're somewhat minor. For one thing, the time frame works very well for Marty's infractions, but the opposite is true for some of the minor characters. For example, Marty's mother (Esther Minciotti) encourages Marty to seek out love, but when he finds it (potentially) she changed fast. It doesn't seem real, but necessary. Also, and I have to be careful here... neither Blair nor Borgnine are really that ugly. Are they Grant and Hepburn? No. But they both convey an only 1950's filmic sort of unattractive! In the all Caucasian, all made up, very paranoid 1950s this was as ugly as they could get on film!
Aside from that, there is very little not to like. The acting by the leads is very fine, and its impossible not to root for these two people who are so beautiful on the inside. I'll cut it off here because I want nothing ruined here for you! This film needs to be seen for its inner beauty over societal mores victory! In short it makes Shallow Hal look like an infomercial for thighmaster.
Four Stars for Marty! Especially for 1955 it's a daring and honestly realistic film. It also shows so much beautiful acting from really underrated actors that all of us can be happily surprised. Borgnine specifically amazes the audience with layer upon layer of Robert Onion like complexity. I am such a huge fan of the man now... For this performance I could forgive him for a thousand sins... even BASEketball!