Skip “Fifty Shades of Grey” – Go for “Marty”

Trade out Christian and Anastasia for Marty and Clara and you’ve got a winner. Of course, I’m referring to the two main characters in Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) and Marty (1955), respectively. The film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey was released back on Friday, February 13th. It’s based on the best-selling erotic romance novel, which has sold approximately 100 million copies worldwide. While there are tons of die-hard fans, there are many who see Fifty Shades as promoting dangerous sexual behavior (by objectifying women), masked by the selling point of “romance”. Many see it as grossly misrepresenting BDSM and promoting the idea of engaging women in sexual acts that are not entirely desired on their part. Seeing a story like this become a blockbuster makes me appreciate more simplistic, positive-message romance films even more than I usually do. So, after I caught Marty on TCM recently I basically thought, I should write a recommendation post about this movie in the midst of the “Fifty frenzy”. Because, honestly, it’s so much more worth watching.

French poster for "Marty" (1955)

French poster for “Marty” (1955)

Marty tells the tale of 34 year old Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine), a lonely and socially awkward Italian-American butcher from the Bronx. His mother won’t stop bugging poor Marty to find a wife. Not only does she bug him about marriage, but a lot of the older ladies of the neighborhood do, too. Marty dismisses their pleas to find a wife. He finds himself to be unattractive and unlikely to find a young lady to settle down with. Marty and his mom get into an argument after she tries to convince him to go to the Stardust Room, a popular club in town, one Saturday night. He’s tired of being turned down and hurt, so the prospect of having to endure a night out on the town seems downright awful.

Marty ends up going and meets a shy 29 year old school teacher named Clara (Betsy Blair), who has just been ditched by a blind date. Seeming to sense Marty is a nice guy, Clara goes straight into his arms and gently cries after her date goes off with an old flame without even telling her to her face (and even if he told her, that still would have been a lousy thing to do). Marty gives her a pep talk and they resume the evening dancing with each other and they hit it off. Then they decide to ditch the club and talk about life over sandwiches and coffee and simply walk around the streets of New York. Their relationship progresses from that point.

Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in "Marty" (1955) Courtesy of

Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in “Marty” (1955)
Courtesy of

The beauty of this film is in its subtlety and realness. Marty and Clara share what–one kiss?– throughout the entire film. Yet their chemistry and emotional vulnerability do the talking. Okay, so I’m definitely not opposed to kissing in movies, but I think movies like Marty hit the mark when it comes to romance, showing that relationships aren’t just about kissing or sex. I think the sexiness is found in sharing everything with your life partner: your hopes, dreams, fears, failures, triumphs, and everything in between. The film also shows those not-so-great moments in budding relationships, like when Marty tries to kiss Clara and instead of finding it to be a romantic gesture, it frightens her. In turn, Marty has a moment of frustration because he doesn’t understand why Clara won’t reciprocate the gesture. She simply thought he was getting fresh with her, which upsets him even more because he doesn’t want her to think he’s “that kind of guy”.

Ernest Borgnin

Ernest Borgnine as Marty

Marty’s family and friends also take a stance against Clara. His friends declare her to be too homely and plain and his mother is afraid Marty will marry Clara and leave her to be by herself. It’s not quite on the level of Romeo and Juliet, but there’s definitely tension. Ultimately, Marty has to choose between what his family and friends are pressuring him to do and what his heart is telling him to do.

I feel a kind of connection to this film and I’m sure many other feel the same way. I just feel like I kind of relate to Marty and Clara in some way. I’m kind of awkward sometimes. And I’ve gained some weight over the past couple of years. Although I don’t think about my weight all the time, I won’t pretend like I don’t think about it sometimes. I also used to be self-conscious of my mouth, especially when I had braces. You see, I got braces right after sixth grade and had them until the end of my junior year of high school. Back when I was in the early years of teenager-hood people sometimes mildly teased me about how big my mouth was. Although I think it was meant in good fun, it secretly hurt. Marty helps you remember that no matter what you look like and no matter how awkward you may be, you should never ever change for anyone. Don’t waste your time crying over jerks. Be the beautiful passionate nerd you really are.

So if you’re thinking about spending $8 on a movie ticket and $6 on popcorn to watch Fifty Shades of Grey, or if you’re thinking about renting it when it’s out to purchase, think about staying home and watching Marty instead. It will be airing on TCM on March 22nd at 3:30 pm (CST). If you aren’t able to watch it at the scheduled time, you can watch it via the free WATCH TCM app, which will stream the movie for about a week after it’s aired. All you have to do is provide your username and password to whatever cable/satellite provider you use and you’re in. Also, really consider donating money or services to a local domestic violence shelter. I think that’s the best route you could possibly take.

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