Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Marty (1955).
The second of three films to win both Best Picture and the Palme d’Or, Marty follows the titular character, a pudgy butcher who has given up on love despite pressures from everyone in his life to get married, over the course of two days as he meets Clara, a schoolteacher who has similarly felt she has no chance at love, as they find that maybe neither of them is hopeless after all, before Marty faces pushback from those same people who initially told him to get married. No one ever seems content to let anyone be happy regardless of what they are doing with their lives and Marty captures that sad reality perfectly with a couple battling with a live-in mother in-law, men calling women dogs, and the whole world telling a man he’s living his life wrong. It’s often humorous as characters nag at each other and have awkward conversations but it also manages a sadness springing from the characters’ inabilities to conform to the expectations of society. Great credit is due to Ernest Borgnine for his ability to remain affable during outbursts and to keep stories of his difficulties appropriately dour but somehow seemingly light and trifling in his presentation and his performance is among my favorites to win Best Actor, but little of that would be possible without Betsy Blair’s equally deft handling of shared scenes as she quietly reacts to each of his rapid statements. Marty is a film too great for anyone to have really believed Herb Stempel didn’t know it was the 1955 Best Picture winner.
The Real Best Picture: