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Joe Mantell: ‘Marty’ Oscar Nominee Delivered Classic ‘Chinatown’ Line

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Joe Mantell Marty Ernest Borgnine
Joe Mantell in Marty, with Ernest Borgnine. Low-budget Delbert Mann comedy-drama was the Best Picture Oscar and Palme d’Or winner of 1955.
Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Joe Mantell, who died at age 94 on Sept. 29 in the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana, may not be a household name. Even so, one of the most famous movie lines ever uttered came out of his lips.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” is Mantell’s cryptic explanation for the disturbing goings-on in Roman Polanski’s 1974 mystery classic Chinatown, a mix of murder, incest, corruption, greed, and Los Angeles history chiefly written by Robert Towne.

Those who know their Old Hollywood movies will also remember Joe Mantell as Marty’s best friend in Delbert Mann’s 1955 Oscar and Palme d’Or winner Marty, starring Ernest Borgnine.

In that low-budget, independently made sleeper hit, the New York City-born Mantell also had a catchphrase: “Well, what do you feel like doin’ tonight?”

Curiously, Mantell’s Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for Marty didn’t lead to many more movie roles. However, he did keep busy on television, where he had originated his Marty character in a 1953 Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse production featuring Rod Steiger as Marty.

Among Mantell’s other sporadic film credits are Storm Center (1956), The Birds (1963), and Mister Buddwing (1966).

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