One from the Vault: ‘Marathon Man’

OK, it’s time to step things up a little bit here in “One from the Vault.” This week, I decided to take a break from the ’80s movies and comedic flicks to check out a dental horror film. No, not ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (though that one might very well make it into one of these little posts later). I’m talking about the ’70s thriller ‘Marathon Man’.

Dustin Hoffman seems to have kicked his career into high gear by doing a slew of these kinds of films. Between ‘The Graduate‘, ‘Midnight Cowboy’, ‘Straw Dogs‘ and ‘Papillon‘, Hoffman hadn’t yet started the feel-good-movie kick that he’d jump into during the 1980s. Therefore, I probably don’t need to tell you that ‘Marathon Man’ won’t really leave you with the warm and fuzzy feeling that ‘Rain Man‘ did. In fact, the feeling you’ll be left with is a pain in your tooth.

‘Marathon Man’ is famous for a number of reasons. It was a no-holds-barred thriller. Its star power includes Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider and William Devane. The film was directed by Academy Award winner (for ‘Midnight Cowboy’) John Schlesinger and written by Academy Award winner (for ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’) William Goldman. (Goldman also wrote ‘Misery’ and ‘The Princess Bride’.) However, it’s probably most famous for two reasons: 1.) The terrifying “Is it safe?” torture scene, and 2.) The infamous dig at method acting by Olivier to Hoffman.

Now, Number 1 goes without saying, and if you haven’t seen it, make sure your next dental visit is a long way off before you do. Number 2 has been controversial, and I’m sure no one but Hoffman knows for sure. The story goes like this: Prior to filming a scene where his character (“Babe”) has been up for a few nights in a row, Hoffman really stayed up for a few nights in a row. When Olivier saw him looking so bedraggled on the set, he asked the young actor what was going on. When Hoffman told him, Olivier responded, “Why don’t you try acting, dear boy?” Ha! I hope that’s true. Regardless, everyone involved is perfect in the film.

The film itself is full of international intrigue about government agents and Nazi war criminals and the sale of stolen diamonds and old school spy stuff. It truly is a thriller, and when things get started, there’s plenty of tension the rest of the way through.

So how does it look streamed in HD from Netflix? A lot of shots look exactly like you’d expect from a 35-year-old film, but then the rest of the shots look fantastic! There’s a bit of grain here and there, but on the whole the image is fairly smooth. During the fantastic shots, blacks are deep, detail is good and colors are accurate. In the not-so-fantastic shots, detail and colors are a little murky and washed out, and the grain level, while not distracting, is much higher. Without a full restoration, I suspect this is about as good as the movie’s going to look streaming in HD or on Blu-ray.

A warning about the following trailer: It gives away a few things, and is shot/scored in that very cheesy ’70s style… Soooo, there, you’ve been warned.

Catalog titles are still playing catch-up on Blu-ray, and DVDs drop out of circulation all the time. Fortunately, Netflix tries to fill the void. “One from the Vault” is a recurring feature that explores the wide selection of movies that the Netflix Instant Streaming service has to offer that are out of print, unavailable, or just hard to find in other formats.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *