The Black Marble
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie portrays two police detectives -- each with their own problems, through a series of adventures. What a cast-- Robert Foxworth plays a Russian Immigrant that has "seen too much" and has a drinking problem because of it. Paula Prentiss gives the performance of her life as his newly assigned partner -- entirely against her wishes. Great plot! Great supporting cast too."
"He who lives by the bookmaker..."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 04/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Black Marble (1979)...as best as I can figure, the title refers to something that isn't desirable...like when a group of people are trying decide which member has to perform an unpleasant task, they may draw straws, the person picking the short straw being the one chosen...and if done a number of times in a row, there will probably be one individual more likely to get the short straw more often than the others...in the film we see three individuals, not one, who are more than likely to choose the black marble...based on a novel by Joseph Wambaugh (The New Centurions) and directed by Harold Becker (The Onion Field, Taps, Vision Quest), the film stars Robert Foxworth (Damien: Omen II), Paula Prentiss (Last of the Red Hot Lovers,), and Harry Dean Stanton (Cool Hand Luke, Rancho Deluxe). Also appearing is Barbara Babcock ("Hill Street Blues", Space Cowboys), John Hancock (Airplane II: The Sequel), and the buxom Judy Landers, whom I'll always remember as the character of `Stacks' (because of her ample breastage, get it? Aw, fergit it...), from the 70's television show "B.J. and the Bear".
Foxworth, who looks like he could be Mike Brady's older brother, plays Sgt. A.M. Valnikov, a Los Angeles police detective currently working in Hollywood's robbery division, transferred from homicide after some unpleasantness which is later gone into with great detail (not later in this review, but later in the film). Oh yeah, he's also got a problem with the booze...he can't get enough! Har har...but seriously, this is a man who lives alone (with the exception of a parakeet and a gerbil), as wife left him a number of years ago, taking their son with her, and this, coupled with what happened to his last partner, seems to have deterioration, going through life as a shadow of a man, living in the continual state of either being drunk or hungover. Prentiss plays Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman, a no nonsense, career driven detective assigned to be Valnikov's new partner, much to her dismay as she has little time for a burnt out, hungover, stumblebum, cop whose only interest seems to be finding the bottom of the next bottle of Russian potato juice, constantly making her objections know to their superiors. The third player in this story, sort of outside the circle of Foxworth and Prentiss but tied in nonetheless, is Stanton, as Philo Skinner, The Terrier King, a dog groomer with a gambling problem...he can't get enough! Okay, that's getting tired...but seriously, he owes a great deal of money to people you don't want to owe a great deal of money to, so he concocts a plan to kidnap a valuable show dog from a rich widow and hold it for a hefty ransom (the back of the DVD case states $84,000 but in the film it's $85,000...strange...minor typo, I guess).
This was a really odd sort of film...it reminded me a lot of an early 80's television show called Hill Street Blues in that it would try to do many things like trying to present humanistic characters in situations that might make you laugh or cry, and sometimes even shock you...the opening sequences would indicate this would perhaps be a comedy (Foxworth, in a drunken stupor, ends up accidentally handcuffing his own `privates'), but ends up evolving into a sort of love story, drama, and comedy. Prentiss and Foxworth were an interesting pairing as Foxworth's character seemed a charming and affable type (when he wasn't blitzed) while Prentiss' character was, well, for lack of a better term, bitchy. Okay, I know...if a woman asserts herself, she's often termed this way, but I'm not being chauvinistic here...she really presented this `put offish' attitude through a better portion of the film, but her position does soften, as you can actually see her falling for her partner, despite her fighting it...the two develop a sort of weird chemistry, but I think it worked. My favorite performance was that by Stanton, with his chain smoking (he better get that cough checked out) and leisure suit attire. He's so greasy, seedy and lecherous, sort of a psuedo-comic character, one on the verge of breakdown from excessive stresses...and has some of the more memorable scenes in the film in my opinion, one involving him using a public phone just outside a motel, and a heated exchange between him and the motel owner, played by Anne Ramsey (she played Momma from the Crystal/DeVito film Throw Momma from the Train), as she gets annoyed with Stanton's character hocking lung butter on her sidewalk. Another scene near the end involves Philo and Valnikov in a really funny case of mistaken identity, resulting in one of the more bizarre chase sequences I've ever seen, with Stanton's character getting the worst of it, in my opinion (and the punishment shall fit the crime). A third scene, one that doesn't feature Stanton but Prentiss and Foxworth interviewing a criminal named Itchy Mitch (he gets the hives whenever he gets arrested) was truly funny in a very subdued way. Some will find the pacing to be on the slow and stilted side (the film runs almost an hour and 50 minutes), especially some of the `interactive' scenes between Prentiss and Foxworth, but if you're a patient sort and enjoy character driven stories, this may appeal to you. The film does have some a little bit of harsh language and a couple of rather shockingly violent scenes (both involving Stanton's character), so I wouldn't recommend this for everyone. Also, keep an eye out for some cameos by Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja), in his first on screen role, Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), and James Woods (Videodrome), as The Fiddler.
The Anchor Bay DVD features an anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) picture, enhanced for 16 X 9 TVs, looking very good, and the 2.0 Dolby Digital audio comes through cleanly. Special features include a reproduction of the original theatrical poster on the inside, a trailer, and a commentary track by director Harold Becker.
Sheila C. Emanuel | Los Angeles, CA USA | 10/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is incredible. I loved the book but had not seen the movie in years. It was as good as I remembered."