I first watched Marty (1955) when I was knee-high, and the movie touched me, and stayed with me. It is my ‘go-to’ movie when asked the age old “What’s your favorite film?” for all the reasons we discuss on Ep 24 of Matinee Idles.
I knew that there had been a TV version, two years earlier, and that it starred some of the movie cast and Rod Steiger as Marty. I was intrigued, and resigned to the fact that the chances of seeing a TV show from fifty-seven years ago were zero.
Any fan of old movies or television knows that out there, there are fans who truly own the original meaning of that word, these are the fanatics who, before video, would set up their cine cameras and film their favorite show right off the TV screen, and bless them, whole episodes of Dr Who have been saved this way, and it afforded me the chance to see Laurel and Hardy on the US version of This Is Your Life. These fanatics presumably, would occasionally watch these ‘home movies’ alone, or with a few like-minded types from the local area (if there’s one thing that can be said for geeks – we can spot each other at a hundred paces).
Now, though, we have YouTube, and those fans can share their obsession with the globe, whether it be old commercials for breakfast cereal, or tracking Clint Howards’ receding hairline. One of these great men, has broken the 1953 TV version of Marty into seven YouTube friendly bite-sized chunks… and there it is, grainy and with pretty bad sound in places (hey, its twenty years older than me, and I’m pretty grainy with bad sound, so give it a break), but there it is, and I finally got to see it.
Now, does the original make my favourite movie pale? No. The movie is funnier, more touching, it had the budget to work on a larger scale that informs the story and makes the movie more rounded. And the movie has Earnest Borgnine, if anything, he is more of an ‘ugly, fat little man’ than Steiger, but he is warmer, more natural.
Conversely, Nancy Marchand (who is best known now for being Tony Soprano’s Ma) is plainer than Betsy Blair, but given the movies extended length and, no doubt the lessons learned by Delbert Mann from already having directed this story once, Blair is able to show a more broken, repressed Clara. The shot of Clara at home, watching Ed Sullivan and crying because the phone hasn’t rung, is beautifully shot and performed; giving another dimension to Clara that Ms. Marchand wasn’t afforded.
I theorized on the MI recording that Rod Steiger was ‘too actory’ to work as well as Marty, and I feel that I was right, he channels Brando here more than in any other performance of his that I’ve seen, and its wrong, too harsh to let us into Martys’ world in the way that Borgnine does, when Borgnine closes his eyes we see and feel Martys’ pain, when Steiger does it, it comes across as anger with the threat of violence. When TV Ma says that Marty has a big heart, it’s something that only a loving mother would say, when Movie Ma says it, we believe it too, we’ve already thought it.
At times the TV version plays like a rehearsal for the movie, we see some of the same actors (Joe Mantell as Angie, Esther Minciotti as Marty’s mother and Augusta Ciolli as Aunt Catherine) giving thinner performances of the characters they more fully embody in the movie, they, as all actors would, relish the opportunity to have another go at scenes and characters, moments that perhaps didn’t come off as they wanted the first time around.
Obviously, the restrictions of 1950s television hem the action in, and give it a cheap, studio-bound feel, and it is blessed with some seriously dodgy background acting – woman in butcher’s shop in first scene? I’m looking at you…
This explains the obvious joy in the filming of the Stardust Ballroom sequence and the beautiful introduction of the city as a character into the movie. Now, all those amazing faces in the background as Marty and Clara dance make sense, Mann has grabbed this, at the time practically unheard of, chance to re-make a TV show for the cinema with gusto.
I heartily recommend Marty the movie to you, and afterwards, as a curio, the original, that I thought I’d never get to see, and now I have, thanks to those fans and YouTube. YouTube, this atheist thanks God for you.
you can also purchase a copy on Criterion’s “The Golden Age Of Television” DVD set here