“Move That Crate!”

Last night I saw a TCM Classic Film Festival screening of Marathon Man at the Chinese. The first two-thirds are excellent and close to great…okay, I’ll go further and call it one of the best thrillers of the ’70s except for the last 10% to 15%. A lot of films are like this — superb in the opening phases, delightful applications of intrigue and curiosity…and then the payoff disappoints.

I only know that the more William Goldman‘s plot unfolds and the more we learn about the smallmindedness and the old-man desperation of Laurence Olivier‘s Dr. Christian Szell, the less intriguing it all becomes. Suggestions are more powerful than specifics.

I love the old Jew vs. old German road rage scene in midtown Manhattan. And the spooky Parisian sequences with Roy Scheider, culminating in that superb hotel room fight with the Asian guy with the creepy eyeball. Dustin Hoffman‘s grubby apartment and the Latinos across the street who taunt him and the anguish that he feels over his dead father are fine flavorings. And Olivier’s line about Americans: “They were always so confident that God was on their side. Now I think they are not so sure.”

14 thoughts on ““Move That Crate!”

  1. drbob on said:

    Ronan. Great buildup, perfunctory ending.

  2. My first ever visit to Grauman’s Chinese was when my mom took me to see Marathon Man there in 1976. I was eight, and it scarred me for life going to visit the dentist.

    Is it safe? F–K NO!

  3. I was there too. Evans was so awesome at the beginning, still with the tan and the leather jacket/turtleneck combo. He told a great story about how Olivier was broke and dying of cancer so the the film couldn’t get insurance on him. Evans convinced them otherwise and with the opportunity to act in a great part, Olivier came alive and lived for over a decade. When Evans asked him how he was going to play the part, Olivier told him about how he saw a gardener at Evans’ house, snipping a rose and then smelling it with incredible joy. Olivier said he’d play the part with the same joy, as a dentist, as a torturer, as a thief, as a Nazi. And you can see it in his face when he works on Hoffman, that smile, that easy charm that runs right alongside the chilling evil.

    I disagree on the ending, which I thought was quite strong. And I love the shot of Manhattan just before dawn that follows Hoffman’s escape on foot. It has that perfect glow to it…The location scouting was incredible, especially the fountain sculpture that rises behind Scheider and Olivier’s showdown. It’s an “A” movie, so well-done. Just pure no-bullshit filmmaking that smart enough to work as art as well as entertainment.

  4. I love the under-the-table shot of Olivier’s face as he examines the diamonds. And the final confrontation, too (“Swallow”). Olivier was fun as the Nazi hunter in THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL.

  5. I think the film is great throughout. I’m such a sucker for anything that portrays a gritty, 1970s, economically depressed east coast city with such zeal. American cities back then really did feel like a jungle where if you glanced at the wrong guy you could find yourself in a world of pain, or so I’ve been told.

    drbob is right. Ronan’s third act is so perfunctory. Didn’t “Death to Smoochy” totally steal the whole finale?

  6. A remarkably exploitative movie dealing with the Holocaust considering the wounds in question were only 30 years old. I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing, but I think now it would have to be coated in some kind of Tarantino post-modernism.

  7. Olivier is absolutely one of the great screen villains in Marathon Man. I love that Evans didn’t back down at all and insisted on getting Olivier for the film despite his cancer. Looking at Olivier’s film career, you can make a very strong case that he did his best film acting work in the 70s. In addition to his memorable work in Sleuth, Marathon Man, and Boys from Brazil, he was also pretty solid in Dracula and The Betsy.

  8. I seem to remember William Goldman complaining in interviews about the ending; that whatever he had originally written got changed to provide the audience with a more traditional Hollywood payoff. Still a great 70s spy flick (almost as good as Three Days of the Condor). I love William Devane in this movie. So convincing when he’s scamming Hoffman. Underrated actor.

  9. Devane had a great run in the early to mid-70′s, which seemed to culminate with his suave, oily villain in “Family Plot” (Hitchcock was supposedly less than thrilled with Devane, but to me, anyway…he was a big step up from Hitchcock’s first(and promptly fired) choice, Roy Thinnes….always loved Devane’s snarky verbal duel with Olivier…after Olivier makes it clear how much Devane disgusts him…Devane responds in that smooth deep murmer..”Praise from Ceasar”….

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