Marathon Man 1976


William Goldman’s novels are rarely assessed as much more than expanded screenplays; a pity that books like The Color of Light have never been filmed. But the level of detail in Magic or Marathon Man are indicative of Goldman’s well-researched feeling for the worlds he describes, and John Schlesinger brings the right level of gravity to this 1976 film. Dustin Hoffman is Babe, scholar and runner, who needs both abilities when he discovers that his brother Doc (Roy Scheider) is a double agent and that there’s a gang of Nazis led by Szell (Laurence Olivier) on his case. The dental torture scene has passed into cult history, but there’s plenty of other notably points to enjoy in Marathon Man, from the artfully convoluted construction to the utter seriousness with which the actors treat the material. Goldman was on a roll in the 70’s, and Marathon Man stands up well today as an example of how good writing can make a thriller sing, even if many sequences don’t have the snap that Goldman’s book has; the description of Babe waiting in the bathtub for the assassins to arrive is brilliant prose.

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