Wednesday, February 16, 2011

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Casting Coup Month: Marty

Best Picture (WON)
Best Director (WON)
Best Actor - Ernest Borgnine (WON)
Best Supporting Actor - Joe Mantell
Best Supporting Actress - Betsy Blair
Best Writing, Screenplay - Paddy Chayefsky (WON)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White - Joseph LaShelle
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White - Ted Haworth, Walter M. Simonds, Robert Priestly

It was the Summer of 2000. I was visiting family in Georgia and one of my aunts had the Paddy Chayefsky collection, a four-volume set of his scripts for film, theatre and television. I read Gideon, skimmed some of The Hospital, but the only one that got me -- the one that I read, then went back and re-read -- was the script for the television version of Marty. Rod Steiger originated the role for The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, a weekly airing of live TV plays where Chayefsky, Arthur Penn, Delbert Mann and many others cut their teeth. There were a lot of them back in the day, but only one of them inspired a motion picture that would go on to make history.

It's interesting to watch Marty now and think of its status as an awards winner. The movie is a modest little one, with mostly television actors led by Ernest Borgnine. There's really no climax -- it just seems to stop. Yet I think what keeps drawing people back to it, again and again, is the sincerity of the production. Borgnine gives his all in the role of a lifetime, an unmarried 34-year-old butcher who lives with his widowed momma. He knows he's too much of a dog to attract anyone of the opposite sex, but he's a nice boy; meanwhile, everyone pressures him to either get married (family) or just get laid (friends). Marty just wants to live his life! Then he meets a plain girl who other guys think of a dog, but who touches him. And he her. And it's beautiful.

Marty is famous for being the first American film to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes. It went on to get those eight nominations and four wins at the Oscars, including Best Picture. With its low budget and cast of little-knowns, Marty was The Hurt Locker of its time. Delbert Mann even made Best Director history by winning for his directorial debut, and it was the first of three wins for Paddy Chayefsky, all in original screenplay. It's a timeless story with characters both honest and humorous; we believe them because we know them.

Who is She: Marty's cousin and his wife. She wants his mother to move out so that they can really begin their life together. He's a loyal son who feels guilty about forcing his mother out. They're married and have a newborn, though, so...

Originally played by:
Karen Steele (Ride Lonesome, Decision at Sundown) and Jerry Paris (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Caine Mutiny)

My Choice:
Dianna Agron ("Glee", Burlesque) and Nicholas D'Agosto (Rocket Science, Fired Up!)
Both young, good-looking actors who can squabble. They squabble frequently in their roles, so they can squabble here.

Who is She: Tommy's mother, a morbid woman who thinks life is suffering, ungrateful children, and looming death. Says her sister: "One of these days you're gonna smile, we'll have a parade."

Originally played by:
Augusta Ciolli (Fast and Sexy, Love with the Proper Stranger)

My Choice:
Patti Lupone (City by the Sea, Heist)
With a strange ability for comic gravitas, Lupone would own every scene she's in. Besides, she looks like she could've birthed Nicholas D'Agosto, doesn't she?

Who is He: Marty's best friend. He thinks he's suaver than he is, always going out to dance clubs and trying to pick up girls. Angie thinks Marty is crazy for going out with Clara, a girl he considers to be unattractive.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Marty)
Joe Mantell (The Birds, Chinatown)

My Choice:
Jason Sudeikis (Going the Distance, Hall Pass)
One day, Sudeikis will be a leading man, not the best friend. Today is not that day, but it's ok. Sudeikis is funny as hell, and he can banter believably. What he's really here for, though, is his insistence on grounding all of his performances in reality, making all his characters fully realized. He could have been more concerned with comedy than character in Going the Distance (certainly the other non-lead males were), but he actually played a recognizable human being. This would be a great role for him, especially at the end.

Who is She: A schoolteacher. Though seemingly plain, she has a good heart. She's not Italian (the horror!), but she is charmed by Marty, hoping that maybe this time the guy will call her back. They meet at the dance club when her date tries to pay someone to take her off his hands.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Foreign Actress (Marty)
Betsy Blair (The Snake Pit, Betrayed)

My Choice:
Kristen Schaal (Toy Story 3, Going the Distance)
So far, I've loved Schaal in everything I've seen her in. She's a cute girl, but not in the "traditionally beautiful" way, perfect for someone like Clara. I'm of the opinion that comedians make some of the best dramatic actors (and I will until proven wrong), and I don't think she's done one yet. Besides, Clara gets some light moments during the Date that I think Schaal could underplay wonderfully.

Who is She: Marty's widowed momma, sister to Catherine. At first, Mrs. Piletti seems to wish marriage on her son, but when Catherine tells her that he will kick her out if he does (just like-a her son son!), she dreads the idea. She is automatically wary of Clara for this reason; that and the girl isn't conventionally attractive.

Originally played by:
Esther Minciotti (The Wrong Man, Full of Life)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Jacquelin Susann's Once is Not Enough)
Brenda Vaccaro (Midnight Cowboy, TV's You Don't Know Jack)
Love her. She's underused, and she would kill in this role.

Who is He: Italian-American butcher who everyone thinks oughta be married by now. Marty knows he's not the best-looking guy, though, so he keeps to himself, content to stay by his momma's side. He's a good boy, a nice boy, and when he sees Clara's date trying to pay Angie to take her off his hands, Marty takes the girl out for free. They hit it off, and Marty can't believe how comfortable he is around her. She absolutely magics him into happiness.

Originally played by: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best [Foreign] Actor [in a Drama] (Marty)
Ernest Borgnine (Gattaca, RED)

My Choice:
Patton Oswalt (Magnolia, Big Fan)
Sure, he's six years older than the original Marty, but times have changed and forty if the new thirty, etc., etc., etc. When I saw Big Fan, I immediately thought of him for Marty Piletti. The guy's a natural; he'd bring an easy veracity to the story.

Best Actor: Patton Oswalt
Best Actress: Kristen Schaal
Best Supporting Actor: Nicholas D'Agosto, Jason Sudeikis
Best Supporting Actress: Dianna Agron, Patti Lupone, Brenda Vaccaro


TomS said...

Hmmm...What a task, to re-cast "Marty". I am not familiar with Kristen Schaal, which is a brilliant stroke on your part really, because Clara ought to be played by a relative unknown, so we can all discover her appeal together. Jason Sudekis may be almost too charismatic to play the sad-sack Angie, but he would definitely find the humor in the character. Thank you for bringing Brenda Vaccaro back!!!! And, well, Marty and Ernest Borgnine are so much a part of each others' fabric that ANYONE else would suffer by comparison...but you found a good likeness in Oswalt.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Yeah, Sudeikis is my least confident casting here. Schaal is my most confident. Check out eps of Bob;'s Burgers on Hulu; she's the voice of the youngest daughter. Such a funny show!