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I've got a hold of some tapes of original broadcasts from "The Golden
Age of Television" and the movies that were later made of them and it's
interesting to compare them. My first review is of "Marty", the
legendary1953 production that is often mentioned as being the summit of
the era and the highly successful film Lancaster-Hecht made out of the
same story two years later, a film that won the best picture and actor
awards as well as first prize at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
The story itself is just a slice of life, (literally). A plain-looking, overweight Bronx butcher meets up with a homely girl at a dance and decides he wants to marry her, over the objections of his mother, who is afraid of being turned out of their house and his friends who think she's a "dog". And that's all there is to it. That's all there needs to be to it. It's not dramatically overpowering, just bitter-sweet and real. A typical episode of a modern TV series has more "action", a more complex plot and even more complex characters. But we've lost the ability to present these simple but touching stories because there is no platform for them anymore.
It's axiomatic, (but not always correct) that the original TV version is always better than the film. So is the play or the book. Something is always better than the film. But why do we keep going to them? The TV Marty was written in a matter of days, (the announcer at the beginning intones that this is "the 483rd presentation of Goodyear Playhouse". Greatness is going to hard to maintain with that schedule. Fortunately, this was not a film that required too much in the way of production values. But the script of the film is a more refined work, with more to it because Paddy Chayefski had two years to work on it and another 40 minutes of screen time to work with. It's a more complete story with a greater examination of supporting characters, (especially Marty's bickering in-laws that give him a sorry example of what a marriage can be like: there's also a scene of his girlfriend with her parents that is missing from the tape version).
Ultimately, though, it comes down to the actors and what they bring to the characters. Several of them are the same but in the movie Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand are replaced by Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair. In classic Hollywood style. Blair is too good looking for her part. She's not Liz Taylor but she's hardly the "dog" Marty's friends insist she is. She also has a hairdo that's clearly the product of tinseltown know-how. Nancy Marchand looks the part. Unfortunately the estimable Ms. Marchand, (Mrs. Pynchon in Lou Grant), puts very little into it, playing her character not like a wallflower but like a crime victim. She seems to be in shock, with an inability to emotionally react to anything. It's a reasonable question to ask what Marty sees in her and it has nothing to do with looks. Blair, on the other hand, has a sweetness that makes the attraction seem much more logical.
The ultimate comparison, of course, is the two Martys. Rod Steiger is a great actor giving a great performance. Ernest Borgnine is a good actor giving a very good performance. Steiger is an introvert who wears his pain outside of his skin. Borgnine is an extrovert who hides it deep inside. He seems like a nicer fellow, one that one would make for a more interesting evening. I think he might make a better husband, too.
I love looking at films of this period to see so many faces I remember from the TV shows I watched growing up, many of them still early in their careers, still hoping for major stardom. They contributed a lot to the business even if they didn't become household names. Looks for George Maharis and Don Gordon in the ballroom in the TV version and Nehemiah Persoff as one of Marty's thick-headed friends. Howard Caine, (Hochstetter from Hogan's Heroes"), was the bartender. Lee Philips, his brother in law, was later the star of the glossy movie version of Peyton Place. Betsy Palmer brightened up many a game show. Johnny Berardino is one of the barflies from the movie. Frank Sutton, Gomer Pyle's nemesis, is another of Marty's pals. Jerry Paris, later Elliot Ness's first side-kick, then Dick Van Dyke's neighbor before becoming a leading TV director, replaced Philips in the movie. His wife was played by the beautiful Karen Steele, who guest starred on shows like Maverick and Perry Mason. Why didn't she make it big?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I usually don't like making comparisons of different performances of the
same character, but I feel a disservice has been done to Rod Steiger since
he was denied the role in the movie version and to add insult to injury,
Ernest Borgnine won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance of Marty
[how that happened over the brilliant performances that year from Robert
Mitchum (Night of the Hunter), Jack Palance (The Big Knife), Frank Sinatra
(The Man With the Golden Arm), Spencer Tracy (Bad Day At Black Rock), Alec
Guinness (The Prisoner & The Ladykillers) and James Dean (Rebel Without A
Cause) is beyond me, but don't even get me started on The Academy of
Borgnine did a perfectly nice job about a perfectly nice man who deserved to be loved but wasn't (until of course the happy ending). I like his performance. But Steiger did one thing different. He didn't play a perfectly nice man. He played Marty as a guy who was nice but not without flaws; the most destructive of which was a deep-seated bitterness of the fact that he wasn't loved. You can feel the fire burning in his stomach and see the self-contempt that has driven him to his current state of futility. The difference between the two Martys: Steiger's Marty doesn't believe in himself or in much of anything. That's the sort of torment that makes audiences uncomfortable. It's easier to root for the heart-of-gold guy who knows he has a heart of gold. When Borgnine's Marty does meet Miss Right (a very nice Betsy Blair), the smile on our lips is wide and we feel a warm feeling our hearts. Steiger's Marty is paired off perfectly with the wonderful Nancy Marchand, who seems to share in the same kind of futility that Marty does. You get the sense that she's drearily accepted her fate of being an "old maid' the rest of her life. Thus, one feels something different when these two "losers" meet and hit it off. Agony has turned to hope. We know Borgnine and Blair will be all right in the other film. In this film, we must gather a sense of hope that Steiger and Marchand will be all right because we know that scars run deep and their relationship will be a roller coaster process of love rather than a product of love. One of my all-time beefs about most movies is that I want to see people working through their love rather than just settling into it like a comfy pair of slippers. Although this version of "Marty" is darker and more demanding of its audience, the payoff one experiences is much more than comfort. It's hope. Something I once heard Cassavetes say was "love is not knowing" which is to say, love is faith. It's one of humanity's great ironies that it is through embracing what is intangible that we find life's deepest values. I'll take flaws over perfection, and hope over comfort every time.
I have always thought that this was an amazing teleplay and movie, but
watching the introduction to "Marty" on the recent DVD release gave me
even more reason to love it. Surprisingly, while the dialog is so
realistic and marvelous, the teleplay wasn't even finished by Paddy
Chavevsky until after rehearsals started!! Yet, despite this, it's
considered by many to be an American classic.
"Marty" was a live TV play--quite common in the 1950s but unthinkable today. Imagine, each week you might have half a dozen made for TV events that were performed live on various networks. Shows such as "Playhouse 90", "Westinghouse Theatre" and "The Philco-GOodyear Television Playhouse" made television exciting--much of it because at that time the best talent was no longer in Hollywood but in New York working on television! As a result of so many brilliant teleplays, many of them went on to become blockbuster movies--and in the case of "Marty", it won Oscars for Best Picture as well as Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine).
Here in the original version, Rod Steiger gives a marvelous performance as the title character. "Marty" is an unflinching look at a nice but not particularly attractive bachelor who is tired of the rejection and is resigning himself to a life alone. Your heart really breaks for the simple guy, as he is very decent and would make a devoted husband...IF women would just give him a chance. But, at age 36, his chances are dwindling fast. His mother won't admit it, but the film finds Marty coming to this knowledge. The scene between the two of them in the kitchen discussing this is one of the greatest and saddest in TV history.
Fortunately, however, despite his sad life, Marty might just have a ray of hope in his life. He recently met an unattractive lady (Nancy Marchand) at the dance hall and the scene showing how they meet is pretty heart-rending. But, despite this, they hit it off and begin to forge, awkwardly, a relationship. But conspiring against them is Marty's mother (who has rather selfish motives) and Marty's obnoxious friend who calls her a 'dog'. Can Marty sort all this out and straighten out his sad life? Tune in and see.
I think what I love so much is the ordinariness of the characters. These are not handsome Hollywood-types, nor are their lives complex. These are just decent, hard-working New Yorkers of immigrant stock--people who seem ordinary but are so much more. A wonderful film from start to finish. Although it lacks the polish of the later movie and is too short at 51 minutes, it is a gem.
By the way, although Marty's 'friends' and mother comment on how old Marty's new girlfriend is, she is a lot younger than she looks. Marchand says she's 29, but is actually only 25--yet she does look about 40. I can really respect her for making herself so plain and playing such a tough part--and the same can be said for Steiger.
This is reportedly the best of Criterion's "Golden Age of Television" (and one of the best of 1950's television in general). I don't think I can avoid comparing it to the later film version, also directed by Delbert Mann. What I preferred about this version was the tight running time. There's a lot less fat, especially regarding the secondary characters. However, what's missing is the development of the connection between Marty and Clara. Here we don't really get a feel that these two care for each other at all except as a barrier against future loneliness. It seems to reinforce the idea that single, desperate people should "settle" for the first willing partner to come along. And this apparently goes against popular opinion, but I really prefer Borgnine's performance over Steiger's. Steiger may be a bit more realistic and introverted, but Borgnine is far more enjoyable and interesting. I dunno, I get feeling this movie is praised mainly for what it did in its time and its medium, but doesn't really hold up well against its filmic counterpart.
Everyone asks me, "You wanna order Marty, you wanna order Marty, you
wanna order Marty, I wanna order Marty. How do I order Marty (the film
with Rod Steiger)? I bought it years ago on VHS and the tape has worn so terribly that the film is shot. All I wanna do is order the thing on DVD. Any help out there? Personally, I think that Marty with Rod Stieger is without a doubt, one of the most spectacular pieces of art that I have ever seen. The depth of Stieger's emotion transcends any acting performance since the making of film. I have also introduced this film to my friends, who also would like to know how to purchase the 1953 version of Marty with the fabulous Rod Stieger. Please help me find out how to order or purchase this on DVD. Thanks, Biily
I'm not exaggerating. I stumbled across this in a discount bin at my video store- if you find one, snatch it up! Featuring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, long before THE SOPRANOS catapulted her to fame, this is an incredibly moving piece. Later made into a lesser film starring Ernest Borgnine, this is the real thing. Find it if you can!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Paddy Chayefsky wrote this terrific television play. Fortunately they
got Delbert Mann to Direct & Rod Steiger to head an impressive cast to
act this out. This was one of a begun of very good live television
dramas in the 1950's. The entire cast nails this performance.
This is live television at it's finest. There can be no doubt of it. Since it is from 1953, my DVD Kinescope of it is a little rough picture wise. Still, that does not hurt the results. The dialog is sharp, the exchanges heated, and the results fantastic.
Marty is the bachelor Butcher in his 30's who has been turned down by so many women that he is thinking of quitting the chase. Then he goes to a dance and the Waverly Hall & by chance meets a nice girl. His mom in the meantime wants him to get married, but then her sister worries her about what the marriage will produce.
Marty goes to the bar he hangs out with bachelor friends with, tells them he is tired of being alone and calls his new girl for a second date. This is a touching drama the blends youth & aged stories together.
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