I just watched the television program, thought it was very insightful, and thought to ask about the comparison.
I haven’t seen the television version, only the theatrically released film on DVD. It was written by Paddy Chayefsky, an absolute legend, who won the first of three Oscars for writing “Marty”. He went on to create “The Hospital” and “Network”, for which he also won Oscars, thus making him the only person to capture three solo writing Academy Awards. I also enjoyed “The Americanization of Emily”. I would so very much love to experience “The Goddess” and “The Bachelor Party”.
Of course, Ernest Borgnine won the Best Actor Oscar for “Marty” and the film took Best Picture and Best Director (Delbert Mann). It’s a shame this film isn’t better remembered, because it conveys a simple yet honest story and the writing and central performance are both excellent. Paddy Chayefsky would do even better with “The Hospital” and “Network”.
I gave a lecture on MARTY at the Bronx Film Festival a few years ago. Here are some interesting facts about the film and TV show that I found in my research:
1. It was originally written (supposedly in one week) by Paddy Chayevsky, a Bronx native, for a TV show, the old Philco-Goodyear Playhouse. In fact, the story goes that Chayevsky completed the show’s third act during the rehearsal period. That hour-long TV version was first broadcast on NBC on March 24, 1953, during the “Golden Age” of television. The TV Marty was directed by Delbert Mann, who also directed the expanded film version in 1954. It starred Rod Steiger as Marty and a young Nancy Marchand, of Lou Grant and The Sopranos fame, as the love interest. By the way, Ernest Borgnine apparently got the movie lead (and a Best Actor Oscar) over Rod Steiger because the producers felt that the public wouldn’t want to pay good money in the theaters to see Marty, when they’d already seen Steiger in it for free on television!
2. At 91 minutes long, Marty is the shortest film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was also the first American film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (Another international first: In 1959, as part of a cultural exchange program, Marty was the first U.S. feature screened in the Soviet Union since World War II.)
3. It was the first movie to win the Best Picture Oscar to have been based on a TV show. It was nominated for a total of EIGHT Academy Awards.
4. Delbert Mann was the first film director ever to win the Best Director Oscar with his first movie (later repeated in 1983 by James L. Brooks for Terms of Endearment).
5. Marty cost only $340,000 to make, yet it generated rentals of over $3 million in the U.S. in its initial release.
6. Interestingly enough, Marty was the only time in film history that producers spent more on the film’s award campaign ($400,000) than they did on making the movie.
7. The version seen on many DVDs and VHS tapes may not have a five-minute scene that was part of the original film but is not found in most of the prints available today. The scene shows Clara at her parents’ house, talking about her evening. It was deleted from Marty for its first broadcast on television to make room for commercials.
8. Finally, three interesting cameo appearances. First, you’ll see writer Paddy Chayevsky himself in the back seat of a car, enveloped by shadows. He plays a character named Leo, who has three lines of dialogue. Chayevsky had to join the Screen Actor’s Guild and pay dues of $140 for a bit part that paid him only $67. If you pay even closer attention, you’ll spot future actress Joi Lansing on the cover of a girlie magazine that Marty’s friends admire. Finally, in the dance hall scene in which Marty’s friend Angie walks through the ballroom looking for Marty, there’s a young man dancing with a girl behind Angie. To me, he looks like a 20-year-old Jerry Orbach, now famous for TV’s Law & Order. He’s just an extra and his name does not appear in the credits but Orbach had a bit part that year in Guys and Dolls on Broadway, so who knows?
Thank you very much for your research, Mr. Tomasulo, that was most informative! Some I knew already, some I did not. I’ll have to watch it again and look for Paddy Chayefsky!
Thank you Frank P. & Mark D. for your followup and comments to A. Smith’s opening. This thread is already a winner.
Yes, thanks for the replies.
What I especially liked was the way Chayefsky did not rely on overly simplistic character portraits; while Marty’s plight and his reactions are worthy of compassion, Marty, himself, is not without basic human ignorance and flaws. He, many times, refers to Marchand’s character as a dog—alluding to what others have said, but he continues even when not referencing those others—without awareness of what his words may mean to her; he also goes on about himself, seemingly uninterested in her point of view, underlying the basic selfishness of his desire. It was also impressive to see how he not only focused on the state of his protagonist, but gave distinct emotional arcs to several minor characters (primarily Marty’s mother—although, to be honest, her plight was less compelling given that her situation, while, still relevant fundamentally, is less powerful given that women are no longer expected to be nothing but housewives and mothers (in general).
My real question, which I admittedly did not pose well, was how the two compare emotionally and in terms of acting.
I know some changes were made to the script—certain sequences fleshed out, such as the duration that his friends convince Marty to let her go, that she would be bad for his rep (and while I can see some reason for this change, the look on Steiger’s face during that short bit after his friends have convinced him not to call, the conflict between listening to his friends and doing what he wants to do, the slow victory of his desire over peer pressure, is fantastic, and I’m not sure how it could have been replaced better by more). Basically, I was thoroughly impressed with the acting, and find it difficult to visualize how the character of Marty might have been improved for the big screen. Supposedly there is less of a “woe is me” attitude, and I am curious, if that is true, how that changes things given that a major component of the character was that he had given up, for the most part. At the beginning he is mopey because that depression must be overcome.
To be embarrassingly honest, I was unaware of Chayefsky up until he was referenced in “Studio 60” several years back. I have still not seen most of what he wrote, but after watching this, I am eager to, particularly this film adaptation.
My own take on the acting is that early TV (with those small screens) was still searching for an effective performance style, something between live theater and cinema.
I think that Rod Steiger chewed up the scenery in several scene of the TV MARTY, which looked and felt like a stage play. In fact, the show was called the Philco-Goodyear Playhouse. In other scenes, he seemed to use cinema technique and toned it down, maybe at the instruction of director Delbert Mann.
Borgnine hammed it up a little, but his Italian heritage supposedly justified his mild histrionics.
The film version was more “opened up,” with many scenes on the streets and real locations in the Bronx:
The very first shot of Marty shows a street scene in the Bronx: the Arthur Avenue Retail Market.
Supposedly, the house that was used for the exterior shots of Marty’s home still exists on Belmont Avenue off Fordham Road, although it’s been renovated since 1954. (By the way, the address seen in the movie is 2454.)
You’ll also see the old Third Avenue el, which was partially demolished (up to 149th Street) in 1955 and then completely torn down in 1973.
At one point, Clara, the young lady, boards the #42 bus, the Westchester Avenue line. And Marty is seen on the Grand Concourse hailing a cab.
Marty walks right under the marquee of the RKO Fordham in the movie.
The Stardust Ballroom still exists in the Bronx, although there are now several locations for this club (on Eastchester Road, at West Farms & Tremont Avenue, at 180th Street & Jerome Avenue, and on Boston Post Road & Fish Avenue); and from the movie’s Stardust Ballroom it’s just a mere 8 blocks to Marty’s modest home “on the other side of Webster Avenue.”
Some dramatic license was taken. For instance, the film used the exterior of a church with quite a few steps. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which would have been Marty’s parish, is virtually at street level with only 2 or 3 “steps” into the entryway. So, the producers probably used the outside of the Immaculate Conception Church on Gun Hill Road because it has a longer row of steps.
All these specific references to locations in the Bronx would make it seem like a “Bronx Tale,” yet one might wonder how it came to pass that this “local” story had such an appeal outside the borough, so much so that it won the Academy Award for Best Picture, three other Oscars, and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. What is the basis of its universal appeal? Is the film just a Bronx story or is Marty an Everyman of some sort? In other words, is the Bronx used as a microcosm for more universal themes?
I thought Rod Steiger played Marty as a real sad sack, a depressed guy who wouldn’t appeal to anybody. Borgnine gave him more life, more optimism, more of a positive attitude. And look where they are now. Borgnine’s still around and still ACTING! Still having a ball. Steiger’s career petered out and he’s gone.
Rod Steiger’s career may have petered out toward the end, but he died in 2002 and that put a crimp in his ability to get roles as a live person. After a few days, no one wanted to work with his corpse either (He was scheduled to play the lead in WEEKEND WITH BERNIE 3: THE EMBALMING). :-)
“I was pretty impressed with the characterizations, particularly of Steiger as Marty, who I never really associated with this type of character or quality of acting.”
Steiger was a ham 80% of the time imo, if not more. I like him, but the man wasn’t a great actor imo.
First thank you again to Frank for the information.
Apparently I am showing a bit of a lack in taste in my appreciation for what was on display in the show. “I thought Rod Steiger played Marty as a real sad sack, a depressed guy who wouldn’t appeal to anybody.”
I can’t disagree with the first part of this, but I must with the second part. Yes, he did play a real sad sack, and yes, there were moments with his posturing, his tone of voice, his facial expressions, etc. during which he became a bit caricaturish—the stage play influence as described by Frank is unavoidable—but I think he was an appealing character, depending on what you mean.
In the possibility of not appealing to the audience, I believe I can see your perspective: angst is generally a turn-off, and if the character were a recurring character in a serial of some kind, I can see him becoming a grating presence. But I think it is his display of what many feel and experience that does make him an appealing character. And, I will insist that it is good to have these people portrayed at times; Marty may not be someone you’d like to know personally, but if you did know someone like him, while he would not be an exciting friend, he would most likely be a loyal friend and one you would always know you could depend on. These, too, in my mind make him of potential attraction to the audience, Maybe you don’t want to see these types of everyday people in fiction, people who are lost in despair, who have been stripped of youthful optimism, or maybe you prefer that they be presented differently (and if the latter, how, may I ask?) but I tend to think that these types of characters and stories can be useful.
In the possibility of not appealing to the other characters, I think this was an integral part of the character. That he is someone who is not attractive to women—not only because of his physical presence and potential, but also because of his emotional presence and potential—is not a weakness on the part of the story, but is an integral piece of it. That Ms. Marchand’s character, during and after the dance, emotes simultaneous disappointment at what she has attracted and joy that she has attracted is made believable from both perspectives because of what Marty represents to her. He, if they move beyond courtship, will be a settlement for her; and she probably realizes that it is the same for her to him—she will never be his first choice, but she will be his choice. Yet, he will also be a victory of sorts, a compromised victory, but a victory over a sort of loneliness she believes she does not want (the same applies to Marty). In my mind, this makes the story optimistic and encouraging at the same time as it is pessimistic and discouraging.
Such a presentation may be frustrating, both because, in a way, these attributes can cancel each other out, and because—as this tends to be the way of life—one can feel that if they wanted such an experience they might as well go out and experience it themselves, but I maintain that it is worthwhile: it reminds us that even though the result may not be the superlative we hope for, it remains worthwhile to strive for it. It reminds us of this because, unlike a live event, which is composed of so many elements over such a long period of time, this is allowed to be focused and brief. Like the endings of Boogie Nights, Scenes From a Marriage, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and many other movies, we know the future for the characters will not be happy, will be filled with a lot of pain, but we also know that there will be joys, and that some of those joys will have been impossible without the unpleasantness that we have witnessed (and the unpleasantness we will not).
While, as mentioned, I have not seen the film version of this story, in my mind Borgnine’s persona might hurt the role for the reasons listed as positives: if he is too optimistic, too positive, if any melancholy is too tied to the situation rather than being an inherent part of his personality, then the resolution, I suspect, could ring a little false or weak. Rather than overcoming his despair, partly out of decisive action, partly out of happenstance, we might have a character who is reduced to a force; someone whose optimism and desire act, in a way, outside of his person to bring about the resolution. His character would be without any true active role in the change, in the accomplishment, and would be made nothing but a tunnel through which the story was able to be moved. Now, I doubt this is the case, but I can imagine it turning out that way.
Back to Steiger’s acting, as I mentioned, I don’t typically associate the man with the quality (as I saw it) presented in this particular episode. Perhaps this was a confusing, on my part, of the general quality of the material, which, while not perfect, did (obviously) appeal to me, with what I saw from him. But, I still think his actions—whether they were actually proof of quality acting or accidentally in line with the character—were in line with the character, and totally appropriate. Especially given his speech during the dance and afterward, I get the impression that he was the type of depressive who would, at times, announce his depression, and that he would do so verbally, as he did in the show: blustery and selfishly, trying to attract the attention he could not generally attain
Regardless, I do appreciate the comments above, and I find myself more interested in seeing the adaptation, if only to see how the changes were achieved, and because it seems they were made successfully, what worked.
A. Smith said:
“To be embarrassingly honest, I was unaware of Chayefsky up until he was referenced in “Studio 60” several years back. I have still not seen most of what he wrote, but after watching this, I am eager to, particularly this film adaptation.”
Well, I only became aware of Paddy Chayefsky a few years ago! I saw “Network” and was gobsmacked by the level of writing. So I kept my eyes open for other Paddy Chayefsky works, but they are difficult to find on DVD, especially in Australia.
It makes me wonder why Woody Allen and Billy Wilder are so revered but not Mr. Chayefsky—three solo writing Oscars, the only person to do this, yet he is not hailed as a master by 99.999 percent of so-called film buffs?
As for Rod Steiger:
His career certainly didn’t fade out after “Marty”…unless you call winning a Best Actor Oscar (“In The Heat Of The Night”) fading out. Mr Steiger was also first considered for “Patton” BEFORE George C. Scott. Rod turned it down and George got the role and the Oscar—then HE turned down the Oscar for a part TURNED DOWN by Rod! What a strange world!
I don’t know why people think Rod Steiger was a ham. I found him amazing in “A Fistful of Dynamite”. He really gave emotion to the character of Juan and the whole speech about “the people who read the books and the people who don’t read the books” is most poignant, and it’s the type of role that could have been made generic quite easily by a lesser actor. I think if you search deeply enough you could find a lot of “ham” on the resume of most actors and actresses. But at his best, Rod Steiger was a great actor, so given the right role, obviously he stands out as one of the finest.
The universal appeal of “Marty” is…well, he’s an Everyman, as you said. But for Yours Truly, the writing of Paddy Chayefsky smacks home with this line delivered by Ernest Borgnine as Marty Pilletti:
“Ma, sooner or later, there comes a point in a man’s life when he’s gotta face some facts! And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain’t got it!”
I think ANY MAN over the age of thirty (as was Marty) and used to being rejected/ignored/kicking around by women can relate to this line. Heck, you don’t even have to be thirty and male! I think there was some of this speech in the essence of that moment in “Rocky” where Rocky Balboa is yelling at Mickey as the latter leaves the apartment, as Rocky laments his lonesome life, his shabby abode, says nobody cared for him before, and now everybody suddenly wants to be his friend, et cetera. In fact, “Marty” was obviously very much an inspiration for “Rocky”, and I think before people pass off the latter as a simple sports film, they ought to recognise its roots in the “kitchen sink drama” genre that gave life to “Marty”.
And even though “Rocky” was distinctly Philadelphian, it had worldwide Everyman appeal, as did “Marty”, so it’s fitting both movies took home the Best Picture Award in their respective years. Ironically, it was only “Rocky” that prevented another Paddy Chayefsky film, “Network”, from winning the Best Picture Oscar for 1976!