Although we haven't heard much from famed director John Schlesinger lately (his most recent efforts being the negatively received "Next Best Thing" and "Eye For An Eye"), but he'll always have several remarkable efforts to his credit, including the terrific "Billy Liar", "Midnight Cowboy" and the 1976 picture "Marathon Man", starring Dustin Hoffman and taken from the novel by William Goldman (who also was the screenwriter, along with an uncredited Robert Towne).
Dustin Hoffman plays a young graduate student (who really doesn't look anything like a student, even back then) whose brother (Roy Schneider) is a member of a secret CIA task force. When he's taken out by a mysterious Nazi criminal who thought he was in possession of diamonds that he stole, his brother is captured. Thinking that one brother passed the information on to the other, the Nazi, Snell (Laurence Olivier) begins a series of torture tests to get the information out of him. The only problem is that Hoffman's character literally does know nothing.
Although some of the details from the period seem slightly dated today, the film still manages to offer several effective, tense and creepy moments. Conrad L. Hall("American Beauty")'s cinematography is exceptional, as usual. Performances are superb, as well. Hoffman against Olivier is a remarkable duel of actors and the results are supremely entertaining. Schneider is fine, as well. At a little bit over two hours, "Marathon Man" would probably be trimmed to be even faster paced for today's audiences, yet, I felt that it still moves along at a crisp enough pace to be enjoyable.
Some were put off then by the film's violence and some may still be (I wouldn't blame them) put off now by some of the more graphic moments. I can't say that I've ever read Goldman's novel, but having the novelist write the screenplay probably assures that it's a respectful and appropriate translation, masterfully directed by Schlesinger and acted by the cast.
VIDEO: "Marathon Man" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Paramount. As usual, the studio has done a fine job with this 20+ year old picture. Sharpness and detail are quite solid, with the exception of a few scenes that seemed to be shot with an intentional bit of softness. Dark and dimly lit scenes generally looked fine, but a few scenes appeared rather murky and lacking in visual information.
I've recently had the pleasure to review a few of the studio's older films from around this time on DVD and the one thing that did please me greatly was the condition that they were in. "Marathon Man" is no different, as the picture remains suprisingly free of print flaws; there's a few speckles now and then, but certainly less than I'd expect for a picture that's over 20 years old. A few scenes appeared lightly grainy, but this worked for the picture and certainly didn't cause any concern. A little bit of light edge enhancement and a couple of traces of pixelation were visible, but didn't cause the viewing experience to suffer, either.
Colors seemed noticably subdued throughout the picture, looking rather soft, but never problematic. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural and overall, although not without a few flaws, "Marathon Man" is a fine effort from Paramount.
SOUND: As with many older titles from the studio, Paramount has given "Marathon Man" a full 5.1 make-over. As usual for that effort this old a picture though, the results are appreciated but not that enormously different. The score is the only item that is distributed to the surrounds and generally comes across well. Audio quality is very slightly thin sounding, but overall, all of the elements sound clean and crisp.
MENUS:: As proved lately by several titles ("The Gift"), Paramount can produce some exceptional animated main menus when they want to. The main menu is an especially fine introduction - well animated and not giving away as many details as the back of the box does.
The Magic Of Hollywood...Is The Magic Of People: A weirdly titled featurette (it sounds rather like it should be a chirpy 60's tune...groovy.), this is a rather corny and occasionally entertaining documentary about the making of the picture. As is the usual for promotional offerings of the time, the running time does heavily lean towards interviews about how great everyone is and how wonderful everyone was to work with, but it also manages to throw in some very interesting behind-the-scenes footage. The interviews are occasionally informative, as well - listening to Schlesinger discuss making his first thriller is particularly enjoyable to watch. The documentary is presented in rather worn full_frame and lasts 21:12.
Remembering "Marathon Man": Paramount has produced a very enjoyable new documentary that brings back producer Evans, writer Goldman, actor Schneider and others to remember details about making the picture and how they first learned about the project. Schneider and Goldman are particularly fascinating to listen to, with Goldman being particularly detailed about his feelings as to how the production went on. Hoffman also discusses the reality of the famous story about how he stayed up three nights and how Olivier told him, "why don't you just try acting?". The documentary lasts 29:05 and the participants have so many interesting stories to share, it makes me wish that a commentary could have been provided by at least one of them.
Rehearsal Footage: A very fine effort from Paramount here, who probably had to dig in the vaults to come up with this footage from the production. A 21 minute documentary, this shows rehearsal footage from the set. Not quite as fascinating as listening to the stories that those involved provided in the documentary, but this is certainly a rare treat, to see the actors on a film like this trying to work out a scene.
Also: Theatrical trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Marathon Man" is remains a terrific thriller with superb performances across the board. Paramount's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality and, although a commentary would have been superb, there's obviously been effort put into rounding up the supplements. Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Audio: 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Extras: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
Menus: 85/B = (170/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B