Marathon Runner Book vs Novel: An Analysis


Book – Marathon Man by William Goldman Movie – Marathon Man starring Dustin Hoffman I’m interested in how you compare the novel you read with the film version you’ve viewed. The challenging aspect of this essay is arriving at an analytical conclusion. It’s easy to report differences or similarities; it’s sometimes difficult to think about […]


Marathon Runner Book vs Novel: An Analysis

The Marathon Runner novel by William Goldman, published in 1974, preceded a Hollywood adaption of the same name that shared most of the book’s script. The film, adapted to screen by director John Schlesinger focused on a Nazi war criminal, Christian Szell, who searches for diamonds he acquired illegally during the Second World War. Henry, known as “Doc,” is an American agency agent in a relationship with Peter Janeway, who leads the agency’s investigation. Furthermore, the plot involves Doc’s brother, Thomas “Babe,” and his lover searching for the diamonds that eventually end up with Babe. Even so, there are some differences between the novel and its film adaption. These variations include the genre, script, and, eventually, the overall theoretical strategy used. Goldman’s novel used ethical approaches involving explicit and gruesome details, while Schlesinger’s film used pathos rhetoric to address the book’s issues less intensely while attaining Hollywood success.

While the Marathon Runner film comes with a strong aspect of conspiracy in its text, the movie turns to a suspense-thriller genre that, in turn, downplays some of the book’s emphasis. William Goldman’s 1974 novel draws a bare look at the gruesome nature of the Nazi regime embedded in the conspiracy plot that finds its way to American soil bringing an ethical argument of the character’s values. However, Schlesinger’s film highlights the suspense of the action-thriller plot based on an emotional approach that hides some of the character’s flaws. For instance, the gruesome nature of the novel’s ending when Babe leads Szell to Central Park before firing his gun at him got replaced by a less violent scene (256). In Schlesinger’s film, Babe spares Szell in a pump room before Szell kills himself accidentally with his blade so that the protagonist to connect with the viewer’s emotions favourably. As such, the deleted violent scenes portrayed the characters as less flawed than the novel and underplayed the extreme nature of the Nazi conspiracy.

In the film Marathon Runner, John Schlesinger’s script diminishes the sexual nature of the relationship between Janeway and Doc, who came as gay lovers in the novel. However, the understanding of their involvement in the film gets handled lightly. For instance, Goldman introduces Janeway as Janey, clearly in a loving relationship with Scylla, leading readers to believe it came as a male-female relationship (Goldman 44). Thus when readers meet Scylla, who turns out to be Doc, it’s quite evident he’s in love with Janeway.  However, the novel’s homoerotic references get overlooked in the film adaption, which misses the explicit parts of the relationship between Janeway and Doc edited out of the script. As such, the book’s focus on same-sex relationships is diminished by the film’s adaption.

Although William Goldman’s novel is based on a fictional account of events, it borrows slightly from actual events, which poses ethical questions about the fate of the Nazi possessions stolen by the Jews while also addressing same-sex relationships. While some of these aspects exist in society, there often overlooked due to the ethical dilemma surrounding them during that period, yet the author wants people to consider those parts of reality. For instance, Szell came as an associate of Josef Mengele, a German Schutzstaffel officer that carried out deadly experiments on prisoners during the Second World War (Goldman 177). Similarly, the relationship between Janeway and Doc highlights the existence of same-sex relationships in society, which often got overlooked during the period of the film’s release. Since it’s clear that the Nazis stole Jew’s assets in the Second World War, the recovery of their jewels and painting came as one aspect Goldman highlighted. In 2019, a Jewish family lost a court battle to recover a painting stolen by Nazis, signifying that the issue persists in society (Schwartz). Thus, Goldman addressed these two aspects through ethical persuasion to convince the audience that the two points continue to exist in communities of the world, even if they get ignored.

Marathon Runner’s film adaption used pathos rhetoric to find success at the box office, which modified some of the novel’s ethical issues to suit the political and social climate of that period. While Goldman used gruesome and explicit scenes to address issues concerning Nazis and gays, the film cut and edited these scenes to fit the culturally accepted norms of that time and appeal to the viewer’s emotions. In one case, the gruesome nature of Szell torturing Doc became edited out of Schlesinger’s film due to its graphic nature. While in reality, the Nazi concentration camps were much worse, the Hollywood screen experience needed to focus on the entertainment value of the script more than the informing bit. As such, the ethical appeal of the novel got translated into an emotional persuasion to viewers.

While both the film and novel addressed pertinent societal issues, Goldman used explicit and gruesome scenes to uncover the bare truth of the matter, while Schlesinger utilized an emotional approach to connect with the audience. Some of the novel’s facts became too divisive to adapt to film in that period, and as such, the movie excluded gruesome and explicit same-sex parts. Furthermore, the film leaned more on the use of emotion to convince the viewers of the script, leading them to hide the characters’ flaws, such as Doc’s homosexuality. On the other hand, the ethical approach of the novel argues the good and bad solely based on the characters’ actions in light of their flaws.


Works Cited

Goldman, William.  Marathon man. Delacorte Press.1974.

Schlesinger, John, director. Marathon man. Paramount Pictures, 1976.

Schwartz, Matthews S. “Jewish Family Loses Legal Battle to Recover Painting Stolen by Nazis.” NPR, 2 May 2019, Accessed 6 May 2020.

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Published On: 04-05-2018

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