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Borgnine's brilliant butcher
by Asa Butcher
2008-04-17 08:47:23
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Directed by Delbert Mann
1955, United Artists

Last year I reviewed From Here to Eternity to honour Ernest Borgnine's 90th birthday, since it was his big screen debut, but I now admit that the film was my second choice due to DVD access. You will now be chuffed to learn that, since then, I have purchased my first choice, watched it and am now ready to fulfil my original plan of reviewing Marty, the sleeper hit of 1955 that gave Ernest Borgnine his first and only Academy Award.

It is hard to believe that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has never honoured Borgnine with an Honorary Award despite five decades of service to the screen, but let's not get bogged down with mud throwing. Here at Ovi we love Ernest Borgnine - this is the fourth film of his reviewed for Ovi (BASEketball, From Here to Eternity and The Dirty Dozen) - and I know my Dad loved him as Dominic Santini in "Airwolf", plus you may be surprised to learn he's already been in three movies this year.

Marty was released two years after Borgnine's debut in From Here to Eternity, yet in that time he had managed to be typecast for playing heavies and was not director Delbert Mann's first choice for the role of a romance leading man. However, Mann had no idea who to cast in the lead role, so he asked his friend Robert Aldrich, who would later go on to direct The Dirty Dozen, and he immediately suggested Borgnine.

Made for a mere $343,000 (Rebel Without a Cause was made in the same year for $1,500,000) and based on Paddy Chayefsky's teleplay, for which Chayefsky also won an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay, Marty is about a 34-year-old Bronx butcher named, you guessed it, Marty Piletti played by Borgnine. Marty's Italian-American family constantly pesters him to get married, but he reluctantly resigns himself to bachelorhood disheartened by a lack of prospects. However, one night he meets plain-looking schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair) and they find a connection.

They find a connection, the film builds on it, I won't reveal too much else, but then it just ends. Yes, it just ends, like that. I'd been sucked into the film, identifying a little too much with some characters, and then, without so much as a bye or leave, it was time to return the DVD to the shelf. At 91-minutes, Marty has the shortest running time of any film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, eight minutes shorter than Driving Miss Daisy, yet I could have sat there and watched another hour. Damn!

On one of the IMDb forums somebody suggested a sequel starring the same two actors because both Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair are still alive. The sequel could have them reminiscing on the Diamond Wedding anniversary, with all their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in attendance - I'd watch it. In fact, if I had been able to review Marty last year as planned, then I could also have said that the director Delbert Mann was also still alive, but he sadly passed away in November.

Delbert Mann must have stunned when his name was announced as the winner of the Best Director award ahead of both David Lean for Summertime and Elia Kazan for East of Eden, but anybody that can make you believe Borgnine is handsome deserved that gold statuette. In fact, Mann became the first director to win the Best Director Oscar with his debut, which was a record that stood for 28 years until James L. Brooks repeated the feat with his 1983 film Terms of Endearment.

If Mann was stunned at winning then I have no idea how Borgnine must have reacted at beating Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock, James Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me, Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm and a posthumous nomination for James Dean in East of Eden. It was just a shame that Jo Van Fleet won the Best Actress award for East of Eden leaving Betsy Blair just with a single nomination in her career.

Marty is a brilliant and touching film that really is summarised by five of IMDb's Plot Keywords - Ugliness / Low Self Esteem / Wallflower / Midlife Crisis / Insecurity - and leaves you asking two questions. The first is 'Why didn't I watch this a long time ago?' and the second is 'Why don't more people know about it?' Join the club, watch the film and then ask those questions because it will be the best 91-minutes of film-making you will watch this year.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-04-17 13:52:52
Some musings on Marty and its protagonist. How does one explain the paradox of Actor Ernest Borgnine while portraying an Italian-American in Marty has a name in real life that does not sound Italian. Yet, he happens to be an Italian-American: his family whose family names are Borgnino-Bonselli. After Marty, few of his roles reflected his Italian heritage. Moreover, Oscar winning actress Ann Bancroft was in real life born Anna Marie Louise Italiano. Penny Marshall, Lavern DiFasio, of Lavern and Shirley , was born Penelope Masciarelli, Connie Stevens was Concetta, Rosalie, Engolia, Robert Blake was born Michael Gubitosi, Nicolas Cage- Nicolas Coppola, Vince Edwards was Vincent Zoino , Talia Shire was born Talia Coppola, James Darren- James Ercolani, Rock star Madonna was born Louise Veronica Ciccone , Tony Danza was Anthony Iadanza, Bobby Darrin -Roberto Cossotto and Dean Martin was Dino Crocetti. Italian Actress Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone. The first famous Italian American actor to change his name for the screen was the great silent screen star Rudolph Valentino. Whose real name was Rudolpho Guglimi De Valentina. His dark Latin good looks were unmistakable and irresistible to female fans, for that reason common names had to be changed to attract fans to the box office .
Today's Hollywood is just the opposite of the old standards, they want to use ethnic names to create the illusion that their stars are just like the average guy or gal next door. Otherwise stars such as Ray Romano may have easily become Ray Roberts.(continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-17 13:55:42
To be fair to those who have not changed their name in real life we could mention
Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone (who actually uses his Italian name in Rocky) , John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, Danny Di Vito, Joe Mentegna, Dennis Farrina, Scott Baio Susan Lucci, Annette Funicello, James Galdofini,Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci,. Ben Gazzarra , Tony Franciosa, Danny Aiello.
So the crucial question in this matter seems to be this: why did many stars change their name? One answer may be the fear of being type-casted. Type casted as what? As Italian-Americans. But alas, one can change one’s name but not one’s face! How many movies has anybody seen that do not typecast Italian looking actors in roles that are generally restricted to comedy buffoons, cagey detectives, pizza parlor owners, or mobster roles. How many portray Italian-Americans in the role of President of the United States? The rare exception to this rule came when actor Joe Mantegna was offered the role of Supreme Court Justice, Joe Novelli, on the TV series First Monday. Not much of a stretch actually for Hollywood, since we already have two sitting Supreme Court justices with Italian last names: Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.
In the 70s a famous Italian journalist who reported from the USA for the Italian paper Il Messagero reported that in America people like Califano (a cabinet member under Carter’s administration) or Giammatti (the then President of Yale University) needed a mother with an Irish or English sounding name to make it big in America. As fallacious as that reporting was, it did give a glimpse in the real reason behind the changing of names by many ethnics in America. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-17 13:58:05
Most African-Americans have English sounding names but of course their face betrays the fact that those were the names of their former masters. Enter Malcom X. Enter Barrack Obama. After he becomes president we may start seeing Italian-Americans and African-Americans in the role of President of the US. It always takes longer for Hollywood to catch up to reality…

AP2008-04-17 14:17:25
This review got me curious...

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