You may have noticed an increase in the amount of reviews we’ve been doing lately. Be it our ‘Grizzly Reviews’ of the most current stuff at the theater, ‘Random-Ass Reviews’ which are focused around totally random viewings of movies, new or something less recent on Netflix. We also have the increasingly popular ‘Craptastic Reviews’ where we take a look at B-Movies in hope of finding a rare, entertaining gem. That quest continues still. But now we are throwing something new in the pot: the ‘Vintage Review’.
These will focus on movies from 1979 or earlier, some to be considered classics, some considerably less prestigious than classic. These will focus not only on the movie itself, but factors such as cultural relevance, how well the movie has stood the test of time, and how it was received originally. For the first movie in our new series of ‘Vintage Reviews’, I’ve chosen Marathon Man.
Marathon Man is a story about Babe (Dustin Hoffman), a grad student living in NYC. He is a History Major whose father committed suicide years earlier as a result of accusations made against him during the rampant McCarthyism of the 1950s. Babe has an older brother, Doc (Roy Scheider), who Babe thinks sells oil, but who is in fact a covert operative for the CIA. Doc is brought to town to meet with wanted Nazi War Criminal Szell. Played by film legend Laurence Olivier, Szell is in New York to claim millions of dollars worth of diamonds he has hidden in a safe deposit box.
Szell is convinced that he is going to be robbed of said diamonds as soon as he claims them from the bank. In fact he is convinced that not only will he be robbed, but that Doc will be the one to rob him. Believing his fortune in danger, Szell has Babe kidnapped and then proceeds to torture him in the famous “Dentist Scene”.
Now that is obviously a broad stroke, and describes only part of the movie as I don’t wish to ruin anything for those who haven’t seen it.
Upon it’s release in 1976, the movie was both a financial and critical success. Olivier’s performance was particularly praised and he would be nominated at the Oscars for ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’.
His character, ‘Dr. Szell’ (based on Dr. Josef Mengele, head SS Doctor of Auschwitz) was ranked as villain #34 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains” list. The film itself was ranked #50 on the “100 Years…100 Thrills” list.
Personally I felt the film holds up very well, and not all films from that period do. A lot of the thrillers from the late 70’s have become a bit dull in retrospect, but this one holds up nicely. The pacing has a good flow to it, which is no surprise with John Schlesinger (one of the most respected directors of the era) at the helm. It’s also always helpful when the writer of the novel adapts it himself for screen as William Goldman did here. It helps keep the themes of the story in check.
Though we are now a bit removed from hunting Nazi War criminals, as most are dead, the characters are still relevant and identifiable. We are again reminded, as in most films from this time, how New York really seemed to be the center of the world then. Now with the Internet and other technological advancements of the past 30 years, thing don’t seem so centralized anymore, but it gives a real presence here.
The cast is obviously phenomenal, Oliver being one of the most respected actors in the history of film, and Dustin Hoffman is always excellent. Plus you add Roy Scheider, who most of you will know as Sheriff Brody from Jaws, and you’ve got a real powerhouse trio up front.
A special treat for me was seeing a young William Devane, who I will always remember as ‘Secretary of Defense James Heller’ on 24.
Again, I highly recommend this movie, that is why I have tried not to spoil more than is necessary, but I can tell you there is much more to it, so it’s for sure worth a watch.