Written by Paddy Chayefsky, a butcher feels rejected by women, but at a dancehall he finds someone who likes him. His mother and his friends try to get him to reject her.
Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) works as a butcher in a meat market. He explains to a woman customer about his family, and she asks when he is going to get married. She asks what is the matter with him. Another woman says he ought to be ashamed of himself.
Marty comes into a bar and orders two beers. He sits down next to Angie (Joe Mantell). They ask each other what they feel like doing tonight. Angie says he wants to call up Mary because she likes Marty. Angie suggests they go to 77th Street. Marty says he has been looking for a girl, but he never finds one. They are reading the newspaper. Marty gets a call from his mother Theresa Piletti (Esther Minciotti).
At Theresa’s house Virginia (Karen Steele) and Tommy (Jerry Paris) ask Theresa if she would take Tommy’s mother into her big house because they don’t have any privacy. Theresa says it is okay with her, but they have to ask Marty first. Tommy tells her that the Stardust ballroom is loaded with tomatoes. Marty comes in and washes his hands. Theresa asks him if Caterina can live there. Marty says it is okay. Tommy thanks Marty, who asks him about selling his shop for $5,000. Tommy says they will talk it over. Tommy says he wants to pay for his mother. Tommy and Virginia leave. Marty looks in his little phone book and dials a number. He asks for Mary and asks her if she remembers him. He explains how he met her about a month ago and says he is the stocky one. He asks how she is and invites her and her friend to see a movie with him and his friend. He says it is late to call but asks about next Saturday night and the Saturday after that. He says he understands and hangs up.
Theresa serves spaghetti for Marty, and she suggests he go to the Stardust ballroom. He says it is just a dancehall. Marty says she should give up because he is a bachelor. He says he has been hurt enough; he does not want to be hurt anymore. She says he will die without a son and tells him to put on his blue suit. He says he is a fat, ugly man. If he goes, he will get a night of heartache.
Marty and Angie look at the girls in the dancehall. Angie picks out two, and they walk over to them. Angie asks a woman to dance, and she goes with him; but when Marty asks another, she says no. Clara Snyder is coming in with another woman and two men; but one of the men tells the other he does not like his date. They walk up the stairs to the Stardust ballroom. A woman sees Herby and says she will be back. Herby says he used to know her. Clara says she has been there twice. Herby says he will be right back, and the other three look for a table. Herby asks Marty if he is stag or with a girl. Herby says he got stuck with a dog and offers Marty five bucks to take her home for him. Marty asks if he is kidding and says he can’t just walk off on a girl. Herby walks away, and Marty watches him give some money to another man. Marty sees them go to the table and talk to Clara and then walk away. The man says he will keep the five bucks. Marty watches Clara stand up and walk out. He follows her outside and asks her if she would care to dance. Clara is crying and puts her head on his shoulder. He puts his hands on her shoulders, and they dance. He asks if she comes up there often. She says last time she sat there for an hour and a half without anyone asking her to dance. She said she started to cry and went home. She says she has been crying a lot lately. Marty says he cries too. He says he knows about pain and says she is not such a dog. They both realize they are not very good looking. Marty says he adored his old man because he was so kind; but his father was an ugly man. She says she is 29 years old and asks how old he is. He says he is 34.
Theresa visits Virginia, who explains that it would be good if Caterina thought it was Theresa’s idea. Tommy says hello, and Theresa and Caterina (Augusta Ciolli) sit down and start talking about those who have died. Theresa suggests the two kids go to the movies. Virginia and Tommy go out. Caterina talks about how Virginia treats her baby. She says she gives her the evil eye. Theresa asks Caterina to come live with her in her house. She says her son and his wife want to be alone. Caterina is reluctant, and Theresa asks her not to make an opera out of it. Theresa says Caterina is dear to her, and she says she can make her happy. Caterina says these are the worst years because she is becoming an old lady. She is 56 years old, and she wants to make dinner for her children. She asks Theresa what she will do if Marty gets married. Caterina says she will come to her tomorrow.
Marty talks to Clara as they walk down the stairs. They walk on the street, and he talks about how long it has been since he was in school. He tells her how he learned about his father’s death when he was 18 years old. He says he has been talking and will let her talk, but he keeps on talking. She smiles and lets him continue talking. Marty says she has a very nice face, and she thanks him. In the ballroom Angie looks around for Marty. He goes down the stairs.
Marty and Clara sit and talk over coffee. He is telling a story, and they both are laughing. Later he says when he got out of the army, he felt lost. He says his brother wanted to get married, and he walked the streets. He admits he thought of doing away from himself, God forgive him. He says he is Catholic and that even thinking about suicide is a terrible sin. He says everyone pleaded with him to take the butcher’s job, and he took it. He says people look down on butchers. He says he might buy the shop and explains about the competition with supermarkets. She says he would like to buy it. He says he would have to take a note out from the bank. She says he is an intelligent, decent man and that she has a feeling about him. She says her kids come in, and they have warmth and capacity. She has that feeling about him. She advises him to buy the butcher shop because he is a good butcher. He says what he could do with the shop and get people together. He says he is Catholic and asks if she is. She says she is. He asks her to stay out with him later and persuades her. She asks if she can put on some makeup. They walk on the street.
Angie goes into a bar and asks about Marty. On the sidewalk Marty and Clara walk slowly. She tells how she takes a bus and the train. She says she is terrified of cars because she is afraid of killing someone. She says she is not sure she wants to be a department head at school. She says her father depends on her. Marty says she is kidding herself. He feels his mother needs him, but he says actually she needs her father. She is afraid of being lonely. He says she could make friends. She says she does not make friends easily. He tells her they can call each other up and not to be so afraid. Ralph in a car with others calls to Marty and introduces him to Louise in the back seat. Marty says he is with a girl. Ralph says this is a good deal, but Marty says no. Ralph drives off, and Marty goes back to walking with Clara.
Marty and Clara come into his house and sit in the dining room. He suggest she take off her coat. He says his kid brother got married on Saturday, and he talks about the meat. He says she looks tense and offers to take her home. She says it would be a good idea. He helps her with her coat and asks her for a little kiss, but she says no. He feels disappointed again, and she sits next to him. She says she would like to see him again. She said no because she did not know how to handle the situation. She says he is the kindest man she ever met. She will think about him when she gets home. She wants to see him again, and he asks her what she is doing tomorrow. She says nothing, and he says he will call her about going to a movie. He says his Aunt Catherine is coming over tomorrow, and he might have to help out. She says she will wait for his call. He says he will take her home. He asks what she is doing New Year’s Eve, and she says nothing. Slowly he kisses her, and then Theresa comes in. Marty introduces Clara to her as a chemistry teacher. Theresa persuades her to sit down and says Caterina is coming to live with them. Clara asks if she can find a hobby. She thinks a mother-in-law should not live with a young couple, but she says she does not know the people involved. Marty leaves with Clara.
On the street Angie sees Marty and says he was looking for him. Marty introduces Clara to his best friend Angie. Marty says he is taking Clara home and persuades Angie not to go with them. Angie walks away, and Marty and Clara get on a bus. At her place he asks her if they have an elevator. She shakes hands with him, and he says he will see her tomorrow night. She turns and goes in. She walks upstairs and is happy. Marty walks to the bus stop and is happy too. He calls for a taxi.
In the morning Marty whistles and washes his face. He tells his mom that he is going to buy the shop. He says they have $3,300 in the bank, and he will take it out. He asks if Thomas is bringing Caterina over.
In their bedroom Tom gets dressed and tells Virginia this is the first time he heard his mother crying. Virginia says they need some privacy. Tom tells his mother that he will drive her over, but she tells him to leave her alone. Tom asks Virginia why she could not get along with her.
Tommy and Virginia go with Caterina to Theresa’s house. Marty comes down and kisses Caterina. Marty asks Virginia to let him hold the baby. He asks Tommy about buying the shop. Tommy quarrels with Virginia about using the kitchen. Marty asks Tommy about a markup. Tommy asks why he wants to buy a shop and says he will have to carry a mortgage. Tommy asks Marty to take care of his mother and walks off. In the kitchen Theresa tells Caterina that Marty was there last night with a girl. She says it is the first time and that Marty has feeling for this girl. Caterina predicts that he will suggest they sell the house. Marty comes in and suggests they sell the place and get a nice apartment.
Marty, Theresa, Tommy, and Caterina go to church. Theresa asks Marty about the girl and says she looked older and not Italian. Theresa says she does not like her. Marty says she is a nice girl. Theresa tells him not to bring her to the house anymore.
Marty goes into the bar for a coke. The bartender says he heard Marty got stuck with a dog last night. Marty sits down with Ralph and asks how he did with the nurses last night. Ralph tells him how they tried to get the girl to go out the window. Marty says he had a nice time, but he did not try anything. He says they just talked. He leaves a message for Angie and goes.
At home Marty tells his mom he does not want to talk. Later Angie and two guys talk to him. After Marty eats dinner and says he is going to call her to go to a movie. Angie says she looked old. The others advise him not to go with a dog. Later Marty finds Theresa and Caterina on the porch, and he smokes. Theresa asks what he is going to do tonight. He says he might go see Angie and the boys.
Clara and her parents are watching the Ed Sullivan show, and she is sad. About eight o’clock Marty and the guys talk about what to do. Marty realizes he is crazy. He says he had a good time with her. He says if they keep having a good time, he will get down on his knees and beg her to marry him. Marty makes a call and tells Angie he should get married.
This realistic drama portrays ordinary people who have romantic difficulty because they are not considered good looking. Being rejected, they become more sensitive and understanding of others’ feelings. When two of them meet and talk, they find that they like each other. They come to realize it does not matter what others think if they love each other. This drama also reflects Italian family life and the shift happening from small shops to supermarkets that are less personal.