A couple of years ago, I started reviewing classic movies I had never seen as an inspiration to catch up on my movie viewing. I was going pretty good for a while but then fell off the tracks. Well, it’s time to get back in gear. I saw that Marty was gonna be on Turner Classics a few days ago, so I decided to watch. Here’s my review:
I think most people would agree, this is a very nice movie. Which strikes me as a bit strange, since most of the characters in this movie are anything but nice. In fact, most of them are incredibly selfish jerks. The brutal honesty of this film is somewhat astounding, and every character is absorbed with their own self interest. I’m not saying it isn’t real, but anyone who tells you that the world wasn’t a cruel place back in the “good ol’ days” should watch Marty.
Let’s start with Marty’s mother, who says she wants him to marry so she doesn’t look bad for having a bachelor son. Then, when Marty does find a girl, she tries to screw it up so her son won’t leave her lonely. She really wants her cake and eat it too. Then comes Marty’s best friend Ange, who refers to Marty’s girl as a dog and then, instead of being happy for his lonely buddy for finding a girl, gets mad because Marty blows him off for that girl. Some friend. Then there is Marty’s cousin Tommy, who ignores Marty’s pleas for advice so that he can carry on a fight with his wife Virginia (played by the impossibly gorgeous Karen Steele. Yowsas!) Then there is Tommy’s mother, who seems to exist to make everyone around her miserable.
And finally, there is Marty himself. Now before you get all riled up, I liked Marty a lot, and for the most part he was a stand up guy. But he was also quite passive aggressive and a bit immature. When Clara refuses to kiss him, he yells “Alright! Alright! I’ll take ya home!”, trying to make her feel bad for not kissing him. (Also, Marty, a quick piece of advice, never tell a girl you’ve considered suicide while on a first date.)
Now, you probably think that I’m being some sort of contrarian jerk who is trying to rip a great film. I’m not. In fact, just the opposite. I thought the darkness of the movie, and the selfishness and brusqueness of the characters, is in fact what made it so good. Yes, there were some very warm scenes, but they would not have been so poignant if they didn’t take place in an atmosphere of duplicity and shameless self interest. It goes without saying that we root for Marty throughout, not because he’s so sweet but because he’s so real. He is trying to balance his own self-interest with the interests of those around him, while at times getting so caught up in his own problems that he becomes a little selfish himself. We can all relate. If he had been more one dimensional (completely selfless and inscrutable at all times), this film would not have been nearly as good.
I am a big fan of good “Day in the Life” films, and this is one of those. Getting a peek at the Bronx in 1955 is a heck of a lot of fun. This was an excellent film, and I have no problem giving it a high mark. GRADE: B. (Grades are in comparison to other great films, not to all films in general.)
RELATED: Variety’s 1955 review.