Marathon Man is a 1976 thriller film with impeccable credentials and an enduring reputation, yet until recently, I'd never seen it. I'm glad to have repaired this omission, and I felt that, nearly forty years on, the film stands up very well. It's gripping from start to finish, while its violence, rather controversial at the time, remains frightening.
Dustin Hoffman plays a history student who has never quite got over his father's suicide. He is something of a loner, and when he is not studying, he practises marathon running. He falls for a glamorous fellow student, played by Marthe Keller, and they become lovers. When he introduces her to his older brother (Roy Scheider), however, there is some tension between the pair. Is the girl playing a game of some sort? And why were the pair of them mugged by two men in suits while out in the park?
What we know - but Hoffman's character doesn't - is that the brother is not an oil executive but some kind of secret agent. And he is mixed up with people who, for whatever reason, are keeping a close eye on a former Nazi (Laurence Olivier, no less) who has emerged from hiding in South America following the death of his own brother. When the Nazi comes to New York, things turn very unpleasant indeed.
The screenplay was written by William Goldman, and based on his own novel. Goldman is a gifted writer, and his expertise shows. So does that of the director, the estimable John Schlesinger. Really, this is a good example of how to write a thriller that grabs you from the start and never lets go. Today, writers such as Lee Child do this equally well. If you enjoyed Jack Reacher (as I did) then it's extremely likely that you'll enjoy Marathon Man. Though I suspect many readers of this blog will have watched it years before I belatedly caught up with it..