Two aspect ratios and brand new 4K masters distinguish Kino's impressive reissue of Marty, director Delbert Mann's Oscar-winning adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's classic television drama about the tender romance between a lonely, heavy-set Bronx butcher (Ernest Borgnine), and a plain, painfully shy schoolteacher (Betsy Blair). Both widescreen and full-frame presentations are included, and the enhanced picture quality, solid audio, with the addition of an engaging commentary track make this the definitive home video release of a beloved, endearing, and finely crafted film. Highly Recommended.
Loneliness. Insecurity. Self-doubt. Self-loathing. Fear. Longing. All of us have felt those emotions at some point in our lives, and few films address them with more sensitivity, tenderness, and insight than Marty. Much like The Enchanted Cottage a decade before it, director Delbert Mann's pitch-perfect adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's acclaimed one-hour teleplay lyrically chronicles the burgeoning romance between two misfits who deeply pine for the warmth and comfort of a meaningful relationship, but believe their unconventional looks and social awkwardness will forever sabotage their dreams.
The affable Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) works as a butcher in a Bronx meat market and lives with his loving mother Teresa (Esther Minciotti), who constantly bemoans his bachelor status. Teresa desperately wants her 34-year-old son to find a wife, but Marty, whose big, hulking frame and macho profession belie his caring and compassionate nature, believes he's "fat" and "ugly" and will never turn the head of any girl. After years of fruitlessly pursuing fickle women, he's fed up with feeling dismissed, ignored, and diminished, and can't endure the pain that eats away at his soul any longer. "I got hurt enough," Marty tells his mother. "I don't want to get hurt no more."
To appease her, though, he begrudgingly agrees to go to the Stardust Ballroom with his friend Angie (Joe Mantell) and go through the motions of trying to meet and engage a nice girl. His expectations are low, but across the room he espies Clara Snyder (Betsy Blair), a sweet, rather homely woman sitting alone at a table, and watches in horror as her arrogant, heartless date tries to pawn her off on another guy. When Clara rushes out to the balcony in tears, Marty follows and musters the courage to ask her to dance. The two ever so tentatively begin to connect, and over the course of a long night develop a kinship that both hope will lead to a relationship...if the pressures of family and friends don't dissuade Marty from following his heart.
The antithesis of the typical Hollywood love story, Marty continues to connect with audiences because its characters are so relatable. Their universal insecurities and lack of glamor strike a chord and help the slice-of-life story hit home. Marty may resemble the Kevin James and Jim Belushi characters in the TV sitcoms The King of Queens and According to Jim, but the woman who gets under his skin is flesh and blood, not some cardboard cutout fantasy girl. Marty and Clara are regular people who don't fit classic molds, and that makes them all the more intriguing and appealing.
Chayefsky nicely expands his acclaimed teleplay but retains its intimacy. The memorable exchange "What do you feel like doin' tonight?" "I don't know, Ang. What do you feel like doin'?" stands as one of the most quoted bits of dialogue in Hollywood history, and has kept Marty in our collective consciousness over the past six-plus decades. Many films have modified the lines or used them as an inspiration for natural-sounding dialogue, but Chayefsky's words can't be topped because they ring so true. The same can be said for most of his perceptive, understated, Oscar-winning script that cuts to the heart of so many painful personal issues.
Mann, who also directed the TV version, seamlessly transitions the drama to the big screen, where it wields even more impact. Its quiet moments resonate more fully and its emotional crescendoes reach greater heights. Marty marked Mann's feature film debut and his nuanced work won him a well-deserved Oscar over such established industry giants as David Lean, Elia Kazan, John Sturges, and Joshua Logan. Mann also insisted actors John Mantell, Esther Minciotti, and Augusta Ciolli reprise their TV roles in the film version, and all three heighten the movie's authentic feel. Mantell also nabbed an Oscar nod, but lost to Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts.
Rod Steiger played the title role when Marty first aired in 1954 on The Philco Television Playhouse, and producers Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht wanted him for the film version too, but Steiger refused to sign a long-term contract to seal the deal, so Borgnine got the part. I haven't seen Steiger's performance, but it's hard to imagine anyone embodying Marty better than Borgnine. A welcome change of pace for the actor, who previously specialized in playing heavies, such as the sadistic chief officer of the stockade who tortures Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity and one of Robert Ryan's glowering henchmen in Bad Day at Black Rock, Marty also would mark Borgnine's first leading role in a feature film and prove to be his big break. His heartbreaking sensitivity, clumsy, self-conscious demeanor, and congenial nature captivated audiences and catapulted him to stardom. His unaffected, endearing performance also earned him a Best Actor Oscar in an especially competitive field that included such legends as Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, and James Dean.
Blair, much like her character, often gets overshadowed by Borgnine's brilliance, but Marty is just as much her film as it is his. An often unheralded actress whose career was sidelined due to blacklisting during the McCarthy era, Blair had to fight to get the part. Her husband at the time, actor/dancer Gene Kelly, lobbied heavily on her behalf and reportedly threatened to quit It's Always Fair Weather, the big-budget musical he was starring in at the time, if MGM studio chief Dore Schary didn't vouch for her. Her restrained, luminous work makes the dowdy Clara quite beautiful, and Blair deftly balances Clara's agonizing shyness with an inner strength that recalls Olivia de Havilland's excellent performance in a similar role in The Heiress. Blair would justly receive a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination but lost the award to Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden.
This remastered edition of Marty, like its 2014 Blu-ray predecessor, features a rare additional four-minute scene between Clara and her parents that transpires after she returns home from her date with Marty. The touching, tender sequence only appears in select Marty prints (no one really knows why), but serves a vital purpose, It more fully fleshes out Clara's character, shows personal growth, and adds even more poignancy to the later, memorable close-up of Clara as she tearfully watches TV while awaiting a call she no longer believes will come.
Marty really was the little film that could. It was the first independently produced movie to win the Best Picture Oscar, only the fourth American film to win the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and one of only three movies in cinema history to win both the Oscar and Palme d'Or. (The Lost Weekend and Parasite are the other two.) Marty won four Oscars in all and was nominated for four others, but even if this timeless film never won any prizes it would certainly win our hearts with its wonderful insight into the human condition, its gentleness, its warmth, and most importantly, its truth. If you can't figure out what to do tonight, do yourself a favor and watch Marty.
For another take on Marty, read my colleague M. Enois Duarte's review of the 2014 Blu-ray by clicking here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The remastered version of Marty arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. Two versions of the film are included on the disc - one in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio and one in a full screen 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with the infectious title song immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Like many films produced during the early days of CinemaScope, Marty was exhibited in both 1.85:1 widescreen and the full-frame Academy ratio of 1.37:1 during its initial theatrical release, and ever since, a debate has raged among movie buffs over which aspect ratio director Delbert Mann and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle intended for this intimate tale. Kino Lorber came under fire back in 2014 for presenting Marty in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio on both Blu-ray and DVD, citing the lack of headroom and awkward cropping that resulted when the film was presented in the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio. (The studio also claimed 1.37:1 was Mann's intended aspect ratio and stated the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences only screens the movie in that ratio.) Other film experts vehemently argue that 1.85:1 is the correct and intended aspect ratio, pointing to the fact that by 1955 widescreen was the accepted and prevalent form of theatrical presentation.
For this re-release of Marty, Kino has (rightfully) decided to preemptively quash any furor over this issue by presenting the film in both aspect ratios. The main menu allows viewers to select either 1.85:1 or 1.37:1 and decide for themselves which ratio they prefer. The 1.37:1 presentation supplies more headroom, but the edges of arms and shoulders are sometimes cropped out on the sides. Consequently, tops of heads are occasionally cut off in the 1.85:1 presentation, so neither version provides consistently perfect shot compositions.
Having both aspect ratios at our disposal is a nice bonus (it's too bad Criterion didn't choose to present Summertime in the same manner), but the most enticing element of this re-release is the 4K remastering that both versions of Marty received. The picture quality bests the 2014 disc by a wide margin, with improved clarity and contrast and a lovely film-like feel distinguishing both 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfers. Substantial clean-up has been performed as well, eliminating all the nicks, lines, blotches, and decay that plagued the previous edition. A few faint imperfections remain, but only eagle eyes will spot them. Grain levels still fluctuate depending on light levels - some of the nighttime exterior shots look a bit soft and murky, with some crush occasionally creeping in - but the remastering has substantially improved shadow delineation, making the nocturnal scenes appear cleaner and crisper. At last, we can fully absorb the beauty of LaShelle's Oscar-nominated cinematography that immerses us in Marty's blue-collar Bronx neighborhood.
Inky blacks anchor the image, whites are bright but resist blooming, and the nicely varied grays in between help define details and enhance depth. Background elements are easy to discern, while beautifully rendered close-ups highlight beads of sweat, tears, facial blemishes, and skin wrinkles. With the newly remastered picture and flexibility of two aspect ratios, this reissue of Marty stands as the definitive edition of this Oscar-winning film and is well worth an upgrade for fans.
The previous uncompressed PCM mono track has been replaced by a bright, pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that makes the most of the movie's soundscape. The subtle din of the diner, bar, and dance hall, as well as the urban noise on city streets, come through cleanly, while excellent fidelity allows Roy Webb's lilting score to fill the room with ease. A wide dynamic scale embraces all of the music's highs and lows without a hint of distortion, and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude. Most importantly, all the dialogue is well prioritized and easy to comprehend. Marty's audio isn't particularly bold, but this track seamlessly ties all of its elements together so we can immerse ourselves in the simple, tender story.
In addition to Marty's three-minute original theatrical trailer that's hosted by a beaming Burt Lancaster, who co-produced the film, the only extra is a lively audio commentary by entertainment journalists Bryan Reesman and Max Evry. The duo identifies the movie's Bronx locations, provides a detailed production chronicle, compares and contrasts Borgnine's performance as Marty with Rod Steiger's take on the role in the original television drama, and outlines the hurdles both Borgnine and Blair faced before winning their respective parts. They also discuss the careers of Delbert Mann, Paddy Chayefsky, and a few supporting players, point out a scene that's not included in all prints of the film, and examine how various elements of Marty have cropped up in subsequent movies over the years. Though both men occasionally go off on unnecessary tangents, this is a worthwhile track that's both interesting and informative.
"Which aspect ratio of Marty do you want to watch?"
"I don't know. Which aspect ratio of Marty do you want to watch?"
Kino's top-notch special edition of director Delbert Mann's Oscar-winning classic, which includes both widescreen and full-frame presentations of the film, just might turn you into Marty and Angie clones. Brand new 4K masters of both versions make the decision even more difficult, but you can't go wrong with either one. The remastered transfers and choice of aspect ratio make this the definitive home video release of this touching, achingly tender, and timeless love story that's both relatable and uplifting. Highly Recommended.