I wonder how much Marathon Man speaks William Goldman‘s novel of the same name but in any case, this suspense/thriller film was a crazy contribution to the American cinema in many ways. I liked the direction of film (John Schlesinger) which was straight to subject, mixing and bringing complexity in characters of Doc (Roy Scheider) the CIA guy and big B of the marathon man (Dustin Hoffman), and Elsa (Marthe Keller) the gf of Babe, the marathon man.
First hour of the film was generally growing concerns to know a possible crime scene at some stage and that was the beauty of film-making, the director exactly was spot on. Again my same concern in every film i.e., character development and that was another home run by the director. First hour of Dustin Hoffman’s central character was much of supporting role till the murder of Doc. And from the murder, Babe was the anchor of the ship.
Another impression was the antagonist, in fact a cruel antagonist. The film was mostly remembered for the role of Dr. Christian Szell, a Nazi war criminal played by Laurence Olivier. He played a marvelous villain and thanks to him that due to that unforgettable torturing scene, viewers had to think twice before paying a visit to the dentist. His repeated dialogue “Is it safe?” itself was cruel and annoying but was to play our nerves in few seconds. This role earned the legend his only Academy nomination for Best ‘Supporting’ Actor.
The great British actor gave his heart out in displaying a spectacular performance. This is the film when he was in treatment of cancer and the case was so serious that he took this role to leave a large sum of earned money to his family. He had to shoot the scenes every day with heavy doses of painkillers which later affected his memory. He lived another 13 years after a successful operation.
The then 38 y.o. Hoffman lost 13 pounds for the role to shape himself as a graduate student. The bathtub scene of his drowning was real as he himself requested to water him as long as possible to offer a realistic view. An interesting trivia confirmed that the guy who played Dr. Szell’s brother whose car was involved in oil-truck collision in opening-scene was, in real, a survivor of Hindenburg Disaster.
One major difference between the novel and film was unfortunately the conclusion. Sources said that Hoffman was unhappy whereas Goldman used the word ‘shit’ to the interviewer to mark his opinion for the conclusion. In the film, Babe moved Szell on gunpoint to the pump-room and forced him to swallow the diamonds whereas in the novel, Babe lead Szell to the Central Park and fired multiple shots on him.
Marathon Man was a brilliant storyteller which explored Nazi war criminals staging appearances in remaining old years of their lives and handling/mishandling of CIA. It was and is a perfect treat for Hoffman or Olivier fans to watch their magic.
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