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Marathon Man

While PR flacks for the American Dental Association go peptic at the mere mention of Marathon Man (1976), there's a lot more to John Schlesinger's tight film of William Goldman's intricate and thrilling novel than its most infamous, toothfully painful scene. Dustin Hoffman stars as Babe Levy, a troubled but brilliant history grad student, who ends up, Hitchcock-like, as the wrong man caught between a ruthless ex-Nazi (Laurence Olivier), some international intrigue, and a bagful of pretty diamonds. In an effort to stay faithful to his own work, Goldman's sprawling screen adaptation fails to successfully integrate all of his plot's disparate actions and loses sight of his book's strongest themes. However, under Schlesinger's taut direction the material maintains a visceral and heart-pounding momentum and — despite an overwrought and clumsy opening scene — plays through its climax like a "best-of" montage of thriller sequences from the '70s. The key performances by Hoffman and Olivier are excellent (naturally), and the masterstroke of Paramount's DVD release is that its extra features focus on these two extraordinary talents. In addition to a terrific anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and both the restored mono audio and a Dolby Digital 5.1 re-mix, the disc includes three illuminating supplements. First is an original, pre-release 20-minute "making-of" featurette, The Magic of Hollywood, in which famed producer Bob Evans waxes enthusiastic about his cast (he even calls supporting actor Roy Scheider "the Bogart of the '70s") intercut with arresting footage of Hoffman and Olivier behind the scenes, including an awkward but emotional party in honor of Olivier his last day on the set. This artifact is accompanied by a new featurette, Going the Distance: Remembering The Marathon Man, a fairly sterile 30 minutes of mildly diverting reflections from Hoffman, Evans, Goldman and others, of which the brightest moments are the affectionate anecdotes about Olivier. However, the third supplement, "Rehearsal Footage," is a bit of disappointment, focusing mostly on improvised scene work between Hoffman and Swiss actress Marthe Keller, who is the least interesting of the film's cast. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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