Paddy Chayefsky Penelope Houston - Essay

Penelope Houston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Paddy Chayefsky has described his intentions in writing Marty]: to catch the characters "in an untouched moment of life"; to write the dialogue "as if it had been wire-tapped"; to explore that "world of the mundane, the ordinary and the untheatrical."… (p. 31)

The film's emphasis is on loneliness in the city: the bored aimlessness of the young men hanging about the bars and street corners, the unhappiness of the widow whose children no longer need her, the fear that attacks Marty's mother when she realises what his marriage may mean in terms of her own life, and the despairing anxiety for affection that brings Marty and the girl together. The writing accurately catches the tone of everyday life, with its hesitations and uncertainties, its moments of involuntary drama and unexpected emotion. The sharp and detailed script, though, has none of that artless, improvised quality which Chayefsky's statement of his own purposes might suggest. Intermittently, the dialogue recalls that of Saroyan in a play such as The Time of Your Life: there is the same sense of characters thinking aloud, cut off from each other by their own preoccupations, so that human communication appears in itself sufficiently difficult and chancy business. There is nothing casual about this kind of writing; and the contrast between the validity of the scene in which Marty's friends knowledgeably discuss the novels of Mickey Spillane, and the snatch of overheard dialogue between two women in a bar, which has the air of a deliberate piece of writing for effect, indicates the care with which the "wire-tapper" must organise and discipline his material.

Marty, in detail a study of life in the Bronx, is in essence a contemporary love story, a romantic encounter developed with charm, humour and emotional penetration. (p. 32)

Penelope Houston, "'Marty'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1955 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 25, No. 1, Summer, 1975, pp. 31-2.