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Weekend movie: Marathon Man (1976)

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Note: any link between name of this film and my previous post is coincidental.

While the majority of people were out wasting $8-10 on the Da Vinci Code – we spent Saturday evening at home, making our $20 odd investment per month on Netflix worth it.

Marathon Man reputedly depicts the most chilling torture sequence in Hollwyood cinema. Perhaps my anticipation dulled the effect, but I was not that terrified when the scene came on. So, I will leave the rest of you to discover it for yourself – unless you happend to know it already. Nevertheless, directed by John Schlesinger (of Midnight Cowboy fame), the film is a classic mid-70s suspense thriller . The semi-titular role is played by Dustin Hoffman (nicknamed Babe), potraying a graduate student of history at Columbia. He is a man haunted by his past, particularly by the fact that his father, an eminent historian, took his own life after being labeled a ‘commie’ by the infamous McCarthy commission. And even while training for a marathon and successfully wooing an apparent stranger he takes fancy to, he is somewhat unsure and unable to stand up for himself. He is easily cowered by strangers running in the park or by thugs in his neighbourhood. Part of the film is his discovery of inner strengths and ability to let go of the past as he is suddenly and unwillfully drawn into a murky world of criminal conspiracies involving a wanted ex-Nazi doctor, Dr. Chirstian Szell – a role essayed with brilliant menace by THE MAN, Sir Laurence Olivier.

Incidentally, this character is based on the notorious real-life Nazi, Dr. Joseph Mengele. The same person was depicted in another great suspense thriller, The Boys from Brazil, a film in which Olivier plays the role of a Nazi hunter, loosely based on the legendary Simon Wiesenthal .

Hiding out in some secret location in South America, this Dr. Szell is forced to come out in the open (to collect ill-gotten diamonds) when his brother dies in New York through a quirky accident. I won’t reveal how exactly, but Szell and Babe manage to cross paths through the latter’s brother, Doc (Roy Scheider of Jaws fame) – who works for a secret, shadowy branch of the US goverment that has some kind of illegal dealings with Szell and cronies. As Babe unwittingly finds himself a prisoner of Szell, he is asked in a creepily threatening manner, ‘Is it safe ?’ (somehwat reminescent of the creepiness of Hannibal Lecter’s ‘Clarice….’). Unfortunately, Babe doesn’t have a clue, which leads to the aove mentioned torture. The rest of the film is about how he escapes, figures out the mystery and finds courage to fight the bad guys.

Like any good thriller, a little more than half of the film is spent is building up the characters, setting up the suspense and gradually drawing the audience in. But the unravelling, I thought, was a little forced – I would have liked the mystery to to be solved more gradually. Also, if you are one of those poeple who likes all loose ends tied up at the end and the plot to be water-tight, you might be a little irritated with the film. But with a bit of suspended disbelief to appreciate the excellent acting, this film should be enjoyable. As I mentioned already, Laurence Olivier’s potrayal of a ruthless, yet a little insecure ex-Nazi is brilliant and a major highlight of the film.

For a more hard-hitting thriller, however, I would recommend The French Connection.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

May 22, 2006 at 10:56 am

Posted in Films, Reviews

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