Marathon Man -1976
Director(s): John Schlesinger
Writer(s): William Goldman
Cinematography by: Conrad L. Hall
Editor(s): Jim Clark
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller and Fritz Weaver
I was introduced to Dustin Hoffman when I was a kid. I remember him seeing him in Hook, Dick Tracy and late in Meet the Fuckers. And while he is great in those roles, it is not an example of the great actor Hoffman was in the prime of his career. So, thanks to Classic Tuesday, I've had the opportunity to explore his prime (The Graduate, All The President's, Straight Time and Rain Man), and Marathon Man is just another one off the checklist.
The story follows Thomas "Babe" Levy (Hoffman), a Ph.D. candidate and an avid long-distance runner. One night he finds his brother Henry (Scheider), dying in his apartment. Babe later learns that his brother is part of a secret agency that takes on the jobs the FBI and the CIA deems to dirty. And as fast as he discovers the secret identity of his brother, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy between a rogue agent of his brother's agency and an escaped high-ranking Nazi, Dr. Szell (Olivier). William Goldman wrote the screenplay based on his novel, and I hope that this script was a result of him having to cut a lot of his material to fit a runtime (I'm planning on reading the novel). There are many questions this film raises, and it does not bother with answering most of them. The film flows in a way that you as the audience member sit back waiting for all the moving pieces to fall and form the puzzle - and the picture never comes, but it doesn't matter as the pieces we do get are exceptionally well executed.
John Schlesinger utilized New York City to his advantage, making the streets and the buildings characters on to themselves. Multiple sequences are shot and edited by Jim Clark, in a way that creates mountains of tension. My favorite sequence being when Babe escapes the clutches of Dr. Szell and uses his running ability to avoid his goons. Babe’s fear is palpable and gripping. The action is thrilling as well, something I was not expecting.
This film rides on the shoulders of Hoffman and Olivier. Hoffman as the introvert student running away, literally, from his demons of the past. His demeanor and state of mind slowly fall into a manic state due to the crazy situation he finds himself in. Olivier, on the other hand, is a cool, calm, calculated man that enjoys the power he holds over his captives. The go-to scene people always reference when talking about this film is the torture scene of Hoffman at the hands of Olivier, and it also the best example of the strengths both brought to their roles
Marathon Man is a thriller that grabs you and leaves you wanting far more than what you get in the end from the mystery. While the loose ends can be frustrating, the ride is filled with enough enjoyment that you forgive the film’s flaws and warm up to its gripping performances from its two leads. Making this classic a film worth re-watch. Dusting Hoffman is why I love movies.
Marathon Man is Glass Half Full.
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