Marty Pilletti (Rod Steiger) is a butcher in New York City. Pudgy and plain, he still lives with his mother (Esther Minciotti) in a rundown house in Queens. He and his equally unattached friends often talk about going out on weekends but are too shiftless to make any meaningful change in their lives. Mrs. Pilletti encourages Marty to find a nice woman and settle down, as his cousin has recently done. Marty pleads with her to accept that he is too homely to find happiness but finally acquiesces to her insistence that he go to the Waverly Ballroom that night.
Virginia (Betsy Palmer) is having trouble with Marty's Aunt Catherine (Augusta Ciolli), who lives with her and her husband, Angie (Joe Mantell), Marty's cousin. They ask Mrs. Pilletti to ask Aunt Catherine, who is her sister, to move in with her. Mrs. Pilletti agrees and goes to visit Catherine to tell her that she needs to leave her son and daughter-in-law alone to make their own family. Although resistant, Catherine agrees -- but not before telling Mrs. Pilletti that it is humiliating to be abandoned by one's children and that she should be careful that Marty does not do the same thing to her.
Marty is having a miserable time at the Waverly. However, another man asks him to take his blind date home as he has found a more attractive woman to spend time with. When the blind date, Clara (Nancy Marchand), realizes what is happening, she goes to the balcony to cry. Marty follows her and persuades her to come back downstairs to dance. He consoles her. Later they go back to Marty's house. Their interaction is awkward, made all the more so by Mrs. Pilletti's sudden entrance, and Marty takes her home.
Mrs. Pilletti expresses uncertainty about Clara, a reflection of her own uncertainties about abandonment following the conversation with Catherine. At the bar, Marty's friends make fun of him for wanting to pursue a relationship with Clara, who they have heard is ugly. Marty, depressed, at first decides not to call her again. Then, seeing how his friends are lonely and unsupportive of him, Marty calls Clara from the bar. As he closes the door to the phone booth, he laughingly tells his friends that they'll never find love with their current attitudes.