Jun 24, 2021
By Austin Trunick
Sgt. A.M. Valkinov (Robert Foxworth) is newly transferred to Hollywood’s robbery division. Once a good cop, he’s been transferred—read: ejected—from the homicide division when his partner’s unexpected death triggered a nervous breakdown, and left him with a crippling vodka habit. Doing their best to look out for him, his friends in command assign him a new partner: Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman (Paula Prentiss), a detective who’s got little patience for Valkinov’s broken-down behavior.
Nearby, a high-end dog groomer named Skinner (Harry Dean Stanton) has landed himself in deep debt to a dangerous bookie. Forced to raise a huge sum of cash or look down the barrel of a gun, Skinner kidnaps a prize show terrier, holding it for ransom from its wealthy owner. This is the case our new partners find themselves latched onto.
Named for a turn-of-phrase similar to “drawing the short stick,” The Black Marble (1980) is an oddly-toned film that’s part-mystery, part-comedy, part-romance. Neither our detectives nor our dog-napper show much (or any) prowess at their professions, but the crime itself is secondary to the characters tied up in it. Valkinov is a man in need of fixing; Zimmerman perhaps the only person able to do it. Stanton steals the show (as he so often did), playing a man who has spent his life connecting with animals better than he ever could other humans—and is torn apart putting canines in harm’s way, even to save his own life.
The Black Marble has a leisurely pace, with the best scenes being when it stops cutting between plotlines for a while and lets the characters interact. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a charming one—especially if one can get behind the quirky, mish-mashed tone. (The film culminates in perhaps the slowest chase scene ever captured—which manages to be both hilarious and riveting.) It’s also a movie with a handful of recognizable faces in teeny roles: James Woods plays a busking violinist, Christopher Lloyd has a few threatening lines as a bookie’s goon, and a (very young) Michael Dudikoff is summoned to identify a murdered dog.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray presents the film handsomely, and comes with a selection of trailers and an audio commentary by the director.