Monday, May 30, 2022

Recasting 1976 (supporting): "Marathon Man"

We begin the "supporting" version of this recasting project in the same year we did for lead. Mery's actual filmography began with 1977's Julia. But we know that she was doing auditions for films earlier, as she's famously described her encounter with Dino De Laurentis in her audition for King Kong. That film was ultimately cast with Jessica Lange, and was released in December 1976. So it's not too wild to assume she may have not only been interested in doing a film a year earlier than she did, but was getting auditions with established directors. 

One of those directors could've been John Schlesinger, whose Midnight Cowboy had scored him an Academy Award for Best Director earlier that decade. Schlesinger reteamed with Dustin Hoffman in 1976 for an adaptation of William Goldman's thriller novel, Marathon Man. I'll say right off the bat that it's a bit of a stretch to think that Streep would've been considered for the role of a French and German-speaking Swiss woman for her first film. That being said, it's known that Schlesinger originally envisioned Julie Christie (a Brit) in the part of Elsa Opel that eventually went to Swiss actress, Marthe Keller. It's not a huge role and Keller was by no means a big star in Hollywood, but had up to that point appeared in several French and German films. Had Meryl secured an audition, we can expect that she would've been able to adeptly display her knack for accents and language, perhaps even to the point of being considered. We'll continue under that premise. 

The film basically follows Babe Levy (Hoffman), a Ph.D. student and jogger, whose brother, Doc (Roy Scheider) is a secret agent for the U.S. government, acting as a diamond courier for a Nazi war criminal, Dr. Szell (played by Laurence Oliver), in exchange for information in tracking down other Nazis. The plot is pretty convoluted, so suffice it to say that Elsa is also an agent secretly working for Dr. Szell. She becomes Babe's girlfriend to get info on Doc, whom Szell is now trying to kill because he feels he can no longer trust anyone with the diamonds. 

Doc tricks Elsa here into revealing that she's not really from where she says she is. Beyond the technical aspects of the language, it would be an interesting character from the angle of Elsa essentially being a role within a role. The majority of her time on screen is her "acting" like someone she is not. I suspect that would be both a challenging and fun prospect to negotiate for an actor. We never know for sure whether or not Elsa ever had true feelings for Babe. Or if perhaps she didn't at first or hadn't expected to when he was her "mark," but developed them as they spent time together. Spoiler: She ends up getting herself killed when she warns Babe toward the end that double agent Janeway is going to betray him. So we're left to believe, to some degree, that she really did care, since she put her life at risk to help Babe. One further point to mention here: Keller shows her top during a love scene with Hoffman. Hoffman does show his bare ass in a different scene, so it's not like it's only the woman who's showing some skin in the film. But I do wonder if that would've been a deal-breaker for Meryl at the time. She flashed one breast in a scene during Silkwood in 1983, so maybe it wouldn't have been too big of a deal. It would certainly not have hurt the film's quality had the nude scene been left out in Marathon Man

The film did rather well with critics. I've watched it a couple times now, and I agree that it's a solid film, if a bit difficult to follow from a plot standpoint. It's also not something to watch if you're squeamish, as there's a "dental" torture scene that is enough to make you want to consider forgoing your next scheduled cleaning. Olivier deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as Szell. It earned five overall nominations at the Golden Globes, including one for Keller in Supporting Actress. Keller also received a Bambi Award, a German award recognizing excellence in international media. The film is definitely worth taking the time to view. 


  1. I know of this movie but have never watched it, will have to now!

    I'm going to suggest the role of Vilma, played by Bernadette Peters, in Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie".

    I think it would be fun to know Meryl started out doing comedy in her first role instead of the serious dramas she immediately started building her reputation on. Plus the movie is still very well regarded, from what I understand..

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