Old is New - Marathon Man (1976)
Monday, May 11, 2009 3:09 PM
John Schlesinger began directing television and feature films in Britain during the late 1950s and early 1960s. His early work is part of a movement in that country called Kitchen Sink Realism. Mr. Schlesinger would go on to work in the United States with as much success, and considered himself a "mid-atlantic." His best known films include Billy Liar, Midnight Cowboy (Best Picture Winner), Sunday Bloody Sunday and Marathon Man.
As the film opens, we see archive footage of marathon runner Abebe Bikila. As he finishes a race we cut to a man running in New York City. His name is Thomas 'Babe' Levy (Dustin Hoffman), a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia in history. He is studying the same areas as his father before he committed suicide after a 1950s McCarthy-era investigation. Babe has a brother Henry, known as 'Doc" (Roy Scheider) who is often traveling. As far as Babe knows, he works for an oil company. While at the library studying Babe meets a beautiful young woman from Switzerland. When Doc comes into town the three of them go out for dinner.
Parallel to the story of Babe, we see an older German man at a bank looking at a safe deposit box. He takes something out, puts it in his pocket and leaves. As he drives away he has car trouble. An impatient Jewish man explodes in anger and the two begin racing down the street, smashing into each other on their way to crashing into a fuel truck. Fire and death ensue.
How do these two story lines connect? It isn't apparent at first. In fact, the movie is a little confuzing early on. But things pick up as we are given more pieces. Let's just say there is murder and torture involved, as well as double agents and Nazis. The brother of the German man is Dr. Christian Szell (Sir Lawrence Olivier), a Nazi criminal. After his brother's death, he attempts to visit their safe deposit box to retrieve the valuable contents. And Babe finds himself in the middle of it all, with even less understanding of what is going on than we have. The film is a great thriller filled with twists, turns and plenty of paranoia.
One last bit of info. Blogger pal Phil and I watched this movie during lunch at Klipsch in one of our listening rooms with the HD Theater 500. Sound was fantastic. Couldn't believe it was coming from such a small system.
The DVD features a widescreen presentation and the option of Dolby 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 audio. Extras include a look back at the making of the film, as well as a featurette from the time and some original rehearsal footage.
Dustin Hoffman's most recent film, Last Chance Harvey, was also directed by a Brit. There is a reference to Marathon Man in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow when, after seeing a holographic image of Lawrence Olivier, a character repeats the infamous question, "Is it safe?" And for a more recent movie that involves international spying, murder and espionage (yet based on actual events) look into Steven Spielberg's Munich.