Monday, July 21, 2008

Marathon Man

Marathon Man; Thriller, USA, 1976; D: John Schlesinger, S: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller

New York. Thomas 'Babe' Levy is a history student who loves to run marathons. He is also tormented by the suicide of his father due to accusation during the McCarthy era. At the same time, the brother of a runaway Nazi and a Jewish old man clash in their cars and die in a car accident. In Paris, Babe's brother Doc works secretly undercover for the government, playing a courier. Christian Szell, a former Nazi death camp doctor, leaves his hiding place in South America and arrives in New York in order to retrieve his diamonds, nervous due to the death of his brother. He finds Doc and wounds his mortally. Doc is able to arrive at Babe's apartment, but then dies. Szell's men kidnap Babe and torture him in order to find out if he knows something about the diamonds. He doesn't, and he escapes, finding out his girlfriend Elsa is also working with Szell. Babe finds Szell and forces him to eat his diamonds. Szell wants to kill him, but trips and kills himself.

"Marathon Man" is a surprisingly well made adaptation of William Goldman's paranoia novel with the same name, though it derives it quality exclusively thanks to the fantastic atmospheric mood captured by the excellent cinematography, that makes this movie so modern it seems as if it was made today. The story is unnecessary complicated and rather vague, which is the main flaw that brings it down, forcing the viewers to mostly guess in the dark what's going on, whereas some scenes are so over-the-top they become almost unintentionally comical, like in the sequence where the old brother of the runaway Nazi and an old Jewish man chase each other on the New York streets until they both collide with a gas truck. It's a thin film where style is more important than substance, yet Dustin Hoffman is once again great in the leading role, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA, and classic actor Laurence Olivier is also quite good as the bad guy, the evil runaway Nazi Szell who tortures the hero Babe in one legendary scene by drilling his teeth as a sadistic dentist. For that role Olivier won a Golden Globe as best supporting actor and was nominated for an Oscar. The Szell story doesn't seem to relate to the story of Babe's father thematically. So there's no link, at first, but when one looks at it as a story about survival, where Babe's father died during the era of McCarthy forces, yet Babe himself survived and overwhelmed the era of the Szell forces, one actually gets the point.


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