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In Quiz Show, the question Herb gets wrong on purpose is "what movie won the Oscar for best picture in 1955?" He gives the answer he was told to give, On the Waterfront, which won in 1954. The correct answer, the answer Herb spends the rest of the movie trying to prove that he knows, is Marty. Thatís about all anyone knows about Marty, if they know anything at all about it. The movie has fallen through the cracks, not nearly as well known as other movies from that decade like Rebel Without a Cause, Bridge on the River Kwai, From Here to Eternity, and the aforementioned On the Waterfront, which is too bad, since it is a very good movie.
Ernest Borgnine plays Marty, a 34 year old New York butcher who lives with his mother. His younger brothers and sisters are all married, and his customers and his mom all want to see him get married. After quite a bit of badgering from his mother, he decides to go to a dance hall with his friend Angelo.
At the dance Marty meets a teacher named Clara who had gone on a double date with her sister and two guys. Her date is trying desperately to ditch her, and at one point offers Marty five bucks to pretend to be an old army buddy so he can pawn her off onto him. If this movie were made in the last 20 years, he would have taken the money, fallen for her, and then she would have found out about the deal and the relationship would be in jeopardy. But this movie was not made in the last 20 years, so he turns him down flat. Marty eventually does run into Clara and they hit it off.
For the rest of the night, Marty and Clara run into first Martyís mother, and then his friends, and the next day all of them try to convince Marty that Clara is nothing special, but in the end, he calls her anyway, because in spite of what they all think, he had a good time with Clara.
This is a very sweet movie and it gets every little detail right. At the beginning, Martyís mother is nagging him during dinner about going out, and he gets mad and starts to yell. But after standing up and saying his piece, he sits back down and continues to eat. Heís far too nice to storm out on his mother. Later on, several friends of his pass Marty and Clara in a car, and invite Marty to come along with them. There was an extra woman in the car, a sure thing they tell him. Marty declines the offer, and continues on with Clara. Heís far too nice to abandon her like that.
I also love the dynamic between various groups. Marty and Angelo repeatedly have the same conversation about what to do. "What do you wanna do tonight, Marty?" "I dunno, what do you wanna do?" Meanwhile when heís with Clara, Marty chatters away nervously, while Clara remains shy and hardly says a word. Another good dynamic is between Martyís mother and his aunt. In one early scene, the two sit down for a chat and go over what aches and pains each is suffering, before seguewaying into who has died recently, and then complaining about daughters-in-law. This movie does all the little things to hit all the right notes.
It is unlike nearly every other Oscar winner ever. Clocking in at 90 minutes, it is the shortest best picture. Costing just $340,000 to make it is one of the cheapest. And how many times in Hollywood do you see romantic movies that pair an average looking woman and an overweight man?
Other nominees that year were nothing special, but some of the movies not nominated for the big prize were. You had the Spencer Tracy western Bad Day at Black Rock, the original movie about teaching at an inner-city high school Blackboard Jungle, Frank Sinatra playing a heroin addict in The Man with a Golden Arm, and two James Dean movies, East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. Deanís work in both is wonderful, but Rebel Without a Cause is the better movie. Iím surprised it didnít get a best picture nomination, and if it were nominated it might have won, but ultimately I think the Academy did the right thing by giving the statue to Marty. Itís hard to compare those two movies, and they are both very good, but Marty is slightly better. Please, go out and find this movie. Go out and watch this movie. Itís worth it.