With the buzz surrounding the opening night of A Catered Affair (and with the mixed reactions it’s bound to receive from the NY critics), I can’t help but wonder, whatever happened to the Strouse & Adams musical adaptation of Marty? It played Boston to good notices and was even announced for a Broadway run a few years back. John C. Reilly played the title role, and was apparently supposed to star in NY as well. Given that the Oscar-winning underdog Marty is the more iconic of the two Paddy Chayefsky-teleplay to big-screen adaptations (confusing terminology, no?), you’d think it would have arrived first.
The film, one of only two to have won the Best Picture Oscar and the Palm D’Or at Cannes, is a rather simple affair about Marty Piletti, in an Oscar-winning turn by Ernest Borgnine as a good-natured, well-meaning but socially awkward butcher in his 30s who finds romance with a rather shy and homely schoolteacher (Betsy Blair). Chayefsky adapted his teleplay, which starred Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, for the big screen in 1955, with direction by Delbert Mann. (Both Chayefsky and Mann were also Oscar-winners that year). Steiger apparently refused to recreate his TV triumph for movies, allowing Borgnine, who was notable for playing the heavy to triumph in an unlikely leading performance. Burt Lancaster and his producing partner Harold Hecht financed the film, thinking it was going to be a flop, as a tax write-off, only to become one of the most profitable projects in screen history. It’s a sweet little film, and I would like to think that the musical adaptation is worthy of our time and attention.
In fact, were it not for the overwhelming success of Marty, it’s not unreasonable to assume that The Catered Affair, which also starred Borgnine opposite the unlikely Bette Davis, would have been produced.
I also wonder what impact A Catered Affair, regardless of whether or not it’s a success, will have on the fate of Marty.