Marty Pilletti (Ernest Borgnine) is a Bronx butcher who lives with his mother. At 34, he's resigned himself to a lifetime of bachelorhood while his siblings have families of their own. Everything changes when he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a schoolteacher who has also resigned herself to never finding love. Through each other, they find happiness.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Marty won for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay. It also received the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Besides his Oscar, Ernest Borgnine also earned a Best Actor Golden Globe Award for this performance.
This film features examples of:
- Arc Words: Variations throughout on "What do you wanna do tonight?", reinforcing the aimlessness of Marty and his friends and the rut that Marty's stuck in.
- Author Avatar: People who knew Paddy Chayefsky suspected that Marty was one. Chayefsky was also a stocky, socially-awkward guy from a blue-collar Bronx background.
- Book Ends: At the beginning, all the old ladies buying meat from Marty at the butcher shop pester him about getting married, saying "You should be ashamed of yourself" for still being single. At the end, Marty says the same thing to Angie before calling Clara.
- Catchphrase: Marty frequently shouts Perfect and Fantastic.
- Christmas Cake: Marty at 34 and Clara at 29, both of whom had resigned themselves to their perpetual loneliness before meeting.
- Dances and Balls: Marty meets Clara at a dance hall for single folks.
- Hypocritical Humor: Two of Marty's buddies are at the diner looking at a nudie magazine (it's called "Girls & Gags"). One of them says "They shouldn't sell magazines like this," and another says "Imagine what this does to adolescents." Both of them keep looking.
- Jerkass: Clara's incredibly callous date, who tries bribing others into taking Clara off his hands.
- Kitchen Sink Drama: A simple story of a lonely butcher who finds a chance for love with a schoolteacher.
- Local Hangout: The corner diner where Marty and his friends hang out, read the paper, and wonder endlessly about what they want to do every night.
- Maybe Ever After/No Ending: Marty finally gets angry at Angie and his other friends for badmouthing Clara. He says "If we have enough good times together, I'm gonna get down on my knees. I'm gonna beg that girl to marry me." He calls Clara, and she picks up the phone. The End.
- MayDecember Romance: Discussed among Marty's friends. One states that a man should marry a woman twenty years younger than him so she'll still be young and beautiful even when he's forty. Another one points out that that would mean marrying a newborn.
- Motor Mouth: Marty, when he's with Clara. He even surprises himself.Marty: Boy, am I talking. I never talked so much in all my life...Well, I'm gonna shut-up now and let you get a word in. Yeah, seventeen years ago. What have I been doing with myself all that time? Well, there I go again. I must be driving you crazy. Most of the time when I'm with a girl I can't find a word to say. Well, I'm gonna shut up now and let you get a word in...There I go again. I can't stop talkin'. I'm on a jag for Pete's sakes. You'd think I was loaded...I can't stop my mouth! Isn't this stupid? (He compliments her.) You got a real nice face, you know. Really a nice face.
- My Beloved Smother: Aunt Catherine bugs her daughter-in-law so much that the daughter-in-law insists she move in with Marty and his mom. After Aunt Catherine gets Mrs. Pilletti scared about being abandoned, Mrs. Pilletti becomes a similar My Beloved Smother for Marty.
- Nice Guy: Marty laments his status as one, as he doesn't really see how much good it's done him (prior to meeting Clara).Marty: All my brothers and brothers-in-laws tell me what a good-hearted guy I am. You don't get to be good-hearted by accident. You get kicked around long enough, you become a professor of pain.
- No Antagonist: There isn't really a villain. Mrs. Pilletti proves a stumbling block in Marty's romance, but she's a scared old lady afraid of being abandoned, not a villain.
- Plain Jane: Clara. Marty himself is a male version.
- The Pollyanna: Marty. Despite not being married, he still thinks positively.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Defied, as both Marty and Clara show a tendency to stumble over their words, but this makes the romance all the more believable.
- The Remake: Of a 1953 live television movie starring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand (Lou Grant, The Sopranos). The actors who played Marty's mother and aunt and his best friend Angie reprised their roles from the teleplay.
- The 1991 movie Only The Lonely starring John Candy is often considered a loose remake, due to the similar plot, with Irish characters instead of Italians.
- Video Credits: Video credits of all the main players at the end of the film.