I could leave my old friends behind, leave all my pals, I'd never mind…
Delbert Mann
Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Miniciotti, Agusta Ciollo, Joe Mantell
The Setup: 
Butcher has a dream date, finds no one else he knows likes her.

My friend and I rented this as part of our his-turn, my-turn film series, with his turn usually consisting of classics I haven't seen. This is directed by Delbert Mann, who also did Lover Come Back and That Touch of Mink, as well as Torn Between Two Lovers, based on the popular song! It is written by Paddy Chayefsky, also known for Paint Your Wagon, Network and Altered States. It was produced by Harold Hect and Burt Lancaster, won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor, stars Ernest Borgnine of a bunch of good stuff as well as Willard, The Poseidon Adventure and The Black Hole, and Betsy Blair, best known as Gene Kelley's wife! It also slices tomatoes, makes egg salad a snap, gets your whites their whitest, and will wax your floor to a pearly shine, without leaving unsightly streaks. Oh, and provides comprehensive anti-virus protection.

We begin with Borgnine as Marty in his butcher shop. His customer asks him about his brother, who just got married, and tells him he should be ashamed of himself and starts haranguing him about when he's gong to get married himself. He gets rid of her and then the next customer tells him he should be ashamed of himself and needs to get married. He goes to a bar after work where he meets his friend Angie [a man]. They engage in "What do you feel like doing tonight, Marty?" "I don't know, what do you feel like doing tonight, Angie?" banter [the guy at the video store enacted this little scene when I asked for this movie], and Angie thinks they should call some girls they met a week or so prior.

Meanwhile, Marty's mother Theresa is being asked to take in Catherine, the mother of this guy who just got married, because she won't give the newly-married couple a moment's peace. She agrees. Theresa asks the couple where Marty can go to meet a woman, and they recommend the Stardust Ballroom, where he'll find "a lot of tomatoes." I was unsure what plentiful produce had to do with meeting eligible ladies, but it just shows you how much one misses out of straight life by being gay. Another skewed perspective being gay lent to my viewing of this movie is… well… I find Ernest Borgnine to be quite attractive and sexy. Sorry! So I was confused over whether everyone was saying he should be married because he's so cute, as well as being a decent guy, and it took my friend to explain that no, he's actually supposed to be fat and ugly. So there ya go. Anyway, Marty's Mom starts giving him grief over going out to meet a woman, and he says he's just had it with trying to meet women, because he only gets rejected, and it's too painful. But eventually he agrees to go to please her, although all he'll get is heartache and misery.

So Marty goes to the Stardust Ballroom. I personally did not catch a glimpse of the produce section, but I'm sure it's there. So Marty is hangin' in his 50s-style suit and tie, looking quite foxy, when this other double couple comes in. One of the guys sees a guy he'd like to get with more than his date, and in a second he's offering Marty $5 to be a substitute date for the woman. You think "Oh, this is where Marty's luck is going to change," but no, he just says "You can't just walk out on a girl like that." Ah, so Marty's essential decency is going to get in the way. The guy quickly finds someone else, but the woman being dumped isn't all that excited about being fobbed off, and she runs outside in tears. The replacement guy demands his money anyway. Marty goes out after the first woman and asks her to dance, which I would be wary of, considering she's Gene Kelly's wife.

Meanwhile Theresa has gone over to collect Catherine. As soon as the young couple depart, Catherine starts in about how awful the woman who married her son is. Theresa tells her they want her out, and Catherine is bitter to say the least, talking about how awful it is to be old and her aches and her pains and her joints and how no one wants you—then reveals that she's only 56! She sure seems to be an endless fountain of negativity, too. Anyway, she agrees. Meanwhile Marty and Clara [that's the woman] are just a'talkin' and a'talkin and relatin' and relatin' [they are both VERY in touch with their emotions—and willing to talk to a total stranger about them. Once more one recalls that ever-so-handy line from Fight Club: "Strangers with that kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one." Then they leave together and Marty keeps talking and talking. It—like the whole movie—is quite schematic and obvious what's going on, yet at the same time it becomes clear that Marty has no one in his daily life to talk to, and once he finds a kindred spirit, it all comes pouring out.

So he takes her home to talk some more, and wants to kiss her, but she violently refuses. She says she just needs some time and to get to know him better. His mother comes in and sees her, giving a little unhappy face—perhaps intuiting that there may come a day when SHE'LL be thrown out—and then Marty walks Clara home. Clara, by the way, is a perfectly attractive, if as tiny bit off, person, whom we are supposed to believe is unattractive. There is something about the way she looks at people without looking directly at them, however, that made me wonder on several occasions if she was supposed to be blind. Anyway, once Marty drops Clara off, he has a very memorable little scene by a stop sign where he just can't stop beaming, he's so happy.

So the next day the young couple come over to bring the mother's things, and the son now blames the wife for MAKING him throw his own mother out. There is a VERY odd scene in which the couple is having a heated argument on the porch, and Marty keeps interrupting to ask unrelated questions about real estate law and you're like "Dude! …CONTEXTUAL cues, look it up!" Inside, Catherine is poisoning Theresa's ear about how soon Marty will be abandoning her, and how it all starts with how the house is getting run down and they should sell it and move to a nice apartment in the city. Two seconds later Marty comes in and starts talking about how the house is getting run down and they should sell it and move to a nice apartment in the city. Soon enough Theresa is telling Marty how she doesn't like "that woman" and how she can just tell she's not a nice girl.

So Marty goes out and his bartender friend says he heard from Angie that Marty was out with a real dog the night before. He soon comes across Angie who is irritated that he spent the whole night looking for Marty, but couldn't find him. I forgot to mention that Marty also had a chance, the night before, to get some "action," but turned it down, which also annoyed his friends. Now, it was a shock to me that all of this is supposed to be happening in one 24-hour period, because it seemed like several months had passed.

Anyway, Marty told Clara that he would call her that night, but he is convinced not to and to go out with the boys on account of them calling Clara a "dog," his whole mother issues, etc. Him and the boys just end up hanging out on the street like losers, back to saying "What do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" and—well, I'm not going to tell you!

It was good, it just that by now, 50 years later, it all comes off as a bit schematic. That this the best word I can come up with to express that this is one of those things where you can clearly see what point it's trying to make, how it's trying to make it, what methods it is employing, and what conclusion you're supposed to come to from it. For example, it's not exactly that subtle when Catherine is warning Theresa about how the first signs of Marty wanting to kick her out is talking about how the house is getting run down, and then Marty coming in and, almost to the word, saying precisely what Catherine predicted. So you can see precisely what conclusions you, the viewer, are being guided through, and this can serve to keep one at a distance from getting truly involved in the movie. The screenplay offers you such little space for your own thoughts and perceptions that you just surrender in submission and accept the perceptions of Chafeyesky.

The thing is, his perceptions are pretty good, mainly in the whole thing that the people who are behind you all the way and really want you to make the most of your life can suddenly turn and not want you to make the most of your life if it threatens them. And the sense of being out with the guys looking for punanny when you suddenly realize; this is empty and pointless, what am I doing here? And all the guys are saying this is where it’s AT. So that part is all good and interesting, but would be more interesting if you didn’t feel it was being laid out in quite such a connect-the-dots fashion. This can leave you sitting there feeling like you’re watching a great movie, but without being really caught up in the story and feeling for the characters. It’s just one more great movie off the list. Next!

Should you watch it: 

Sure, it’s good, one just wishes it was a little less of a PowerPoint.