• Marty (Eureka Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Eureka Classics
    Release date: April 30, 2018
    Directed by: Delbert Mann
    Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli, Joe Mantell, Karen Steele, Jerry Paris
    Year: 1955
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    The Movie:

    “I set out in Marty to write a love story, the most ordinary love story in the world. I didn't want my hero to be handsome, and I didn't want the girl to be pretty. I wanted to write a love story the way it would literally have happened to the kind of people I know...”
    –Paddy Chayefsky, “Two Choices of Material.” Television Plays, Simon & Schuster, 1955

    In the early 1950s, playwright Paddy Chayefsky was working on a script titled Love Story. Per the quote above, he had hoped to write a story in which realistic people met and fell in love. He got his chance to see his work filmed when NBC cancelled production on another program and requested that his script be the replacement—so long as it wasn’t called Love Story. Chayefsky changed the name to Marty, his central character (who may have been based on Chayefsky himself, according to actor Rod Steiger), and the rest is, as they say, history. The script was filmed for live television in 1953 and proved such a hit that Hollywood soon came knocking. Director Delbert Mann and writer Chayefsky reprised their roles for the big-screen adaptation, expanding Marty’s background, giving Clara more to do, and offering subplots to some of the minor characters. Otherwise, the film was a strikingly faithful adaptation of the teleplay, one that benefited greatly from the realism offered by Bronx location shooting and appealing and realistic performances from the primary cast, particularly Ernest Borgnine as Marty and Betsy Blair as Clara.

    The film begins with Marty, a butcher in a neighborhood meat shop in New York City, fielding incessant questions about why he’s 35 and not yet married, unlike his younger brothers. Within the Italian American community, a premium is set on marriage and family life, but no one seems to understand that Marty, who is overweight and considered physically unattractive by most eligible girls, simply can’t find a woman interested in dating him. He frequently goes out with his male friends, but while they have an easy time with one-night stands, Marty doesn’t, and when he calls the one young woman who showed any interest in him, he gets rejected. One night while at a dance, a man on leave from the military approaches him and offers to pay him $5 to take home the “dog” he’s stuck in a blind date with. Marty is offended by the offer and refuses; another man accepts, and when Marty sees the heartbreak on the girl’s face, he approaches her and begins a conversation. A plain Jane, Clara is a lonely schoolteacher who, like Marty, only ever finds rejection. The two end up spending the evening dancing and talking together. Marty is surprised by how Clara brings out the positive in him, and he looks forward to spending more time with her. Unfortunately, he faces pressure from his friends and family, who find Clara both physically unattractive and a threat to their relationships with Marty.

    Marty is a superb film, a drama that hinges on realism and is all the better for it. It’s doubtful that many viewers at the time were unable to identify with Marty and Clara, given how universal their story was and is. The real kicker is that Mann used an overweight actor to play an overweight bachelor and a plain jane actress to play a plain jane schoolteacher. Today, those roles would be cast with Tom Cruise sporting a fake tummy and a CGI double chin and Scarlett Johansson sporting large-rimmed glasses and hair done up in a bun. Instead, we get Borgnine and Blair turning in the performances of their careers as average but lovestruck human beings.

    Marty was both a commercial and critical success. When it went to Cannes, it conquered the festival; and back home, it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. In addition, it received many more nominations, including for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Cinematography (Black and White). In 1994, the film was deservedly preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress


    Eureka brings Marty to Blu-ray as part of its Classics line in 1080p high definition with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. While shot full frame, Marty was intended to be projected at anywhere from a 1.66:1 to a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, yet it is presented here in 1.33:1, just as Kino’s BD release of the title was in 2014. The same transfer was used, meaning that many of the problems besetting the Kino release are replicated here. About the aspect ratio, it’s important to note that picture information is NOT being lost in Eureka’s release (or Kino’s, for that matter); it’s just that Mann’s original framing has not been honored. If it comes down to a competition between losing or gaining information, gaining is usually better than losing (unless the result is that we see something we shouldn’t, as with the helicopter shadow during the opening credits sequence of Warner’s original DVD release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining). As for the film itself, it contains some dirt and debris which, for this viewer, isn’t problematic, as it shores up the original look of the film, something properly compounded by an appropriate amount of foundational grain. The film has an organic look, and that’s good. Where it falls short visually is in transitional fades, which lose information and are generally soft (suggesting that this transfer is one older than 2014). Unfortunately, there are a lot of transitional fades, as that was Mann’s style (at least here). Contrast is strong, and the image has depth. In scenes that don’t feature transitions, the detail ranges from solid to terrific; and it’s most evident in clothing and furniture (or in the features of Borgnine’s face, which gets plenty of medium to close shots).

    For the film’s soundtrack, Eureka has gone with lossless English LPCM 2.0. There are no surprises here; the film is driven by conversation, not mood music, slam-bang action, or special effects. Dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand, despite some mild Howard Hawks’-style overlap, and there are no issues with dropout, hiss, or snaps, crackles, and pops. There are optional English subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired, but they sometimes drop words or whole sentences from the spoken dialogue. Still, they get the job (mostly) done.

    There are a couple of notable extras, not the least of which is the May 24, 1953 teleplay (52 min), which was broadcast live on NBC as part of the network’s Philco Television Playhouse. Written by Paddy Chayefsky from his own story idea, it features Rod Steiger in the role of Marty and Nancy Marchand as Clara. Both give strong performances, though Steiger is somewhat upstaged by Marchand. Nor does he have the boyish charm that makes Borgnine so appealing in the role. The supporting cast was filled out by Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli and Joe Mantell, who repeated their roles for the big-screen adaptation, though on a more histrionic level. As for the picture quality, it’s exactly what one would expect from a live television presentation given in 1953, meaning: It doesn’t look good, but it’s never going to, so it’s easy to forgive. Eureka has placed the program on a BD50 in standard definition, which is fine because: a) hi-def wouldn’t have helped it any; and b) doing so allows the primary film more breathing space and a higher bitrate. The teleplay was also directed by Delbert Mann and is relatively close to his theatrical remake.

    Next up are “Interviews with Delbert Mann and the cast of the original teleplay,” which runs just shy of six minutes. The interviews were shot as part of The Golden Age of Television episode focusing on the television production of "Marty." It begins with host Eva Marie Saint discussing, you guessed it, the golden age of television; in addition to Mann, also interviewed are Rod Steiger, Nancy Marchand, and Betsy Palmer. The program provides a brief, concise look at how Marty came to be produced.

    Also included is an interview with British film historian Neil Sinyard. Running just short of twenty minutes, the program is interesting, though the bass is so high that it makes hearing what Sinyard has to say a little difficult. And despite the claims of some reviewers, it doesn’t come with subtitles. (At least, the screener disc we were provided doesn’t have any.)

    Rounding out the extras is the original theatrical trailer (2:58), hosted by co-producer Burt Lancaster.

    Per contractual obligations, Marty is locked to Region B. It comes in a package containing a DVD of the film as well as a booklet, neither of which were provided to Rock! Shock! Pop! for review.

    The Final Word:

    Marty is a superb slice-of-life melodrama, a believable romance cast with actors of realistic physical proportions and personas. Eureka’s presentation is good, with solid visuals and nice sound. Extras are a delight, particularly the original teleplay. All in all, this is worthy release for a worthy picture.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!