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Great galloping dance of a movie

The Black Marble Starring James Foxworth, Paula Prentiss, Harry Dean Stanton. Written by Joseph Wambaugh, based on his novel. Directed by Harold Becker. Joseph Wambaugh was a policeman before he became a writer, and police work remains his favorite subject. Last year he scored a major hit with "The Onion Field," a taut and intelligent melodrama which he adapted for the screen from his own novel. Now, teaming up again with director Harold Becker, he has turned another of his books into a movie. This time, the result is not nearly so felicitous.

As a novel, "The Black Marble" has certain virtues, though it is gracelessly written. It argues, with some power, that police work is more dangerous psychologically than physically. And it paints a vivid portrait of a cop whose psyche is just about wrecked by the horrors he encounters on the job. Fortunately, a good woman happens along -- another cop, in fact -- and starts him on the road to recovery.

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It's too bad this characterization is wrapped in a nasty story of kidnapping -- or rather, dognapping -- among the high-society crowd, complete with unpleasant details about unpleasant treatment of animals. On screen, such distasteful stuff becomes even more offensive, pretty much depriving "The Black Marble" of any charm it may aspire to have.

Nowhere in sight is the social conscience of "The Onion Field." And nowhere in sight are the superb performances and neat directorial touches that distinguished "The Onion Field." All that's left is the romance between the two cops -- surprisingly dull in the film version -- and a few clumsy kicks at the animal kingdom. Even the talents of Harry Dean Stanton, as a dog handler with a criminal streak, fail to save this tedious and mangy movie.


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