Two business partners pursue the same woman. She accepts the marriage proposal of the irresponsible partner, much to her later regret. He squanders money on gambling, as his interest in her... See full summary »

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Storyline

Two business partners pursue the same woman. She accepts the marriage proposal of the irresponsible partner, much to her later regret. He squanders money on gambling, as his interest in her gradually wanes. One day after losing the company money in a card game, he decides to commit suicide. He telephones his wife from the office, as he puts a revolver near his head. The wife tries to keep him talking while the reliable business partner races to the office in an attempt to save his old friend. Will he make it in time? Written by Thomas McWilliams <tgm@netcom.com>

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Short | Drama | Romance

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14 June 1913 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Le marathon de la mort  »

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1.33 : 1
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"Determined upon suicide"
29 July 2008 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

This is among Griffith's bleakest short pictures. Oddly enough it's also another spin on the Lonely Villa story, in which a person in distress details their plight to a loved one over the phone, although this time with a very different focus.

Death's Marathon is also a return to a smaller canvas for Griffith, with only a handful of actors and basic locations. Griffith handles the visual storytelling with skill, using only a light sprinkling of unobtrusive title cards and letting the images do the rest. For example, we open with the simple "Partners in business, rivals in love", then cut to Henry Walthall and Walter Miller sitting in an office with their backs to each other. Walthall then gets up and walks into – another cut – the next room (meaning the audience focuses more on his character), after which we cut again to Blanche Sweet sitting alone in a garden, and we know instantly that she is the disputed object of affection.

The parallel editing finale that this situation eventually builds into is one of Griffith's best in terms of its construction. Griffith works largely with repetition and symmetry, with the shots of Walthall and Sweet not changing much and virtually mirroring each other. Only at the last moment does Griffith introduce a new element – when the baby is brought to the phone. The ride-to-the-rescue is granted less significance in Death's Marathon, with only four shots of the speeding car, and again these shots are all very similar to each other. It's enough to be occasionally reminded that the car is on its way – the real drama is between Walthall and Sweet over the phone. Without the burden of intertitles, we are left to guess at what they are saying to each other, and the whole thing has a rather eerie and morbid tone. Sadly as there is not that same sense of danger we get when someone is, say, being menaced by a burglar, Death's Marathon can never be as exciting as The Girl and Her Trust or An Unseen Enemy.

It demonstrates Griffith's versatility that he could make such a diverse bunch of films out of a single idea, having remade The Lonely Villa as a western, combining it with his claustrophobic "Sealed Room" type thrillers, and now putting another new spin on it with the suicide theme. It's a very tightly constructed little work, although to be fair, Griffith probably could have done this sort of thing in his sleep by now. The trouble is for all its cleverness Death's Marathon is not quite as effective as it should be, and comes across as a kind of failed experiment, albeit a very nice looking one.


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