He's been looking for a girl every night of his life -- for the last 34 years.
Marty (Ernest Borgnine) would be the first to agree with the old adage "nice guys finish last." A thirty-four year old bachelor with a stocky frame and ugly mug, Marty knows despite his gentle and conscientious demeanor, he is utterly lacking whatever it is women are looking for. So it's only his mother's nagging and his best friend's pressure to hustle up some week-end action that persuade him to face the heartbreak of the Stardust Dance Hall again.
When his request to dance is dismissed with an appraising glance, Marty feels destined to be a spectator all evening until a young man, victim of a disappointing blind date, offers five dollars if Marty will help get him out of the awkward situation. Too nice to participate in such a scheme, Marty watches another man accept the bribe, and the stoic look on the face of the woman who politely declines the substitute suitor. After the two disgruntled men leave, a sympathetic Marty follows her hasty retreat to the balcony, where his invitation to dance is met with uncontainable tears.
With such an unorthodox introduction, Marty and Clara (Betsy Blair), a twenty-nine year old chemistry teacher, skip the usual formalities and begin to talk about their mutual loneliness. As the conversation progresses, Marty wonders if he has finally found the girl he's searched for every Saturday night of his life.
But Marty's euphoria is quickly shaken by the negative reaction of his single friends and married cousin. When his widowed mother, suddenly afraid of being alone, also disapproves, Marty's good-natured desire to please others is really put to the test.
Although this quiet 1955 Academy Award winning film, containing many portrayals of smoking and drinking, may not appeal to young audiences, it is sure to speak to the heart of anyone who has felt like a wallflower or experienced rejection. Marty and Clara's longing for a committed relationship where they can be valued for who they are, and their recognition of the minor importance of physical appearance, stand in sharp contrast to the implied dishonorable and chauvinistic intentions of Marty's self-centered unattached pals. This movie sends a message of hope that good things do come to those who wait.