Movie Thoughts : Marathon Man (1976)

“Is it safe?”

‘Marathon Man’ was almost scene for scene out of the book.  Not every part of the book was in the film, but everything in the film was in the book and almost exactly the same. 

Since so much of ‘Marathon Man’ takes place in the mind of “Babe” Levy, it’s a tricky story to translate onto the screen, but I think William Goldman’s script worked very well.  It wasn’t as deep as the book (how could it be?) but the core of the story was there.  The entire cast was perfect, especially Dustin Hoffman as Levy.  And, of course, Laurence Olivier as Szell. 

Except for the ending.  They changed the ending from the book.  And, after watching the special features, I understood why, but I wasn’t sure I agreed.  Part of it was Dustin Hoffman and the director disagreeing on Levy’s killing of Szell.  Though it was clear from some other comments made that the change might also have come about because of the sort of anti-violence rumblings going on in Hollywood.  I mean, the 1970s were chock full over the violent flicks like “Taxi Driver” and things like that.  So I could see a major studio starting to quake a little when (rumor has it) someone said during a preview that the film was “sadistic”. 

But, I’m not sure if it works.  For me, at least.  But maybe it was because I’ve read the book.  But if you’re going to take Levy on this journey as a character, you shouldn’t cop out at the end. 

Also, they mentioned in the ‘making of’ that they shot the opening scene for Scylla in the book but they were asked to remove it from the film (because of the “sadistic” shout out).   I wonder if that footage still exists somewhere in the vaults of Paramount or if it was just tossed out, in the days before DVDs and their “bonus features” were even thought of.  I would like to have seen it.  Roy Schneider seemed particularly proud of it.

Overall, as a standalone film, I’d probably give ‘Marathon Man’  3 1/2 stars.  Solid cast, solid script.  If I’m comparing it to the book, I’d probably bump it down to 2 1/2 – 3 stars. 

Read the book first! 

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