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The Black Marble

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Director  Harold Becker
Initial DVD release  April 8, 2003
Country  United States
6.2/10 IMDb

Genre  Crime, Romance, Comedy
Language  English
The Black Marble movie poster

Release date  March 7, 1980 (1980-03-07)
Writer  Joseph Wambaugh (novel), Joseph Wambaugh (screenplay)
Music director  Maurice Jarre, Richard Bowden
Cast  Robert Foxworth (Sgt. A.M. Valnikov), Paula Prentiss (Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman), Harry Dean Stanton (Philo Skinner), Barbara Babcock (Madeline Whitfield), John Hancock (Clarence Cromwell), Raleigh Bond (Captain 'Hipless' Hooker)
Similar movies  Christopher Lloyd and James Woods appear in The Black Marble and The Onion Field
Tagline  JOSEPH WAMBAUGH'S DONE IT AGAIN. But he has never done it like this.

The Black Marble is a 1980 mystery/romantic comedy film directed by Harold Becker, based on a novel by Joseph Wambaugh. It stars Robert Foxworth, Paula Prentiss and Harry Dean Stanton.


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Pragmatic Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman of the LAPD is paired with Sgt. Valnikov, a romantic detective of Russian origin who is going through a midlife crisis and driven to drink by the pressures of his job. Together they investigate the kidnapping of a Beverly Hills socialite's valuable pet dog. It was carried out by sleazy gambler Philo Skinner, who runs a beauty parlor for pets and is desperately in need of cash to cancel his debts.

The teaming of the officers not only helps Valnikov to put himself together, but the pair also falls in love. While containing more humorous elements than most of Joseph Wambaugh's stories, it continues to explore Wambaugh's common theme of the psychological burdens of police work.

A comedic highlight of the film is a slow-motion chase sequence through a very messy dog kennel.

The title of the film comes from a phrase used by Natalie. The term "black marble" is synonymous to choosing the short straw or having bad luck. She states that she is always picking the black marble and does not want to anymore. She initially considers Valnikov a "black marble," but ultimately no longer believes this to be true.


After the success of The Onion Field in 1979, writer Wambaugh joined producer Frank Capra Jr. to make this dramatic comedy. Both films conform a diptych about the private lives of police officers, under the direction of Harold Becker. Actor James Woods, the protagonist of The Onion Field, also appears in this one, in a cameo as a fiddler.

The producers wanted actress Paula Prentiss for the role of Natalie Zimmerman. After the release of The Stepford Wives in 1975, she had decided to raise her children and thereafter only made television movies, such as Having Babies II and Friendships, Secrets and Lies. For her comeback to films, Prentiss was asked to gain weight to play Zimmerman's character.


Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review of Jan. 1, 1980, gave this film three-and-a-half of a possible four stars. Ebert described it as an "unusual and distinctive comedy," and concluded: "This isn't a seamless piece of work, but it's infectious and charming."

Although The Black Marble was not a commercial hit, it won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for film given by the association Mystery Writers of America.


  • Robert Foxworth as Sgt. A.M. Valnikov
  • Paula Prentiss as Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman
  • Harry Dean Stanton as Philo Skinner
  • Barbara Babcock as Madeline Whitfield
  • John Hancock as Clarence Cromwell
  • Raleigh Bond as Capt. 'Hipless' Hooker
  • Judy Landers as Pattie Mae
  • Pat Corley as Itchy Mitch
  • Paul Henry Itkin as Det. Bullets Bambarella
  • Richard Dix as Alex Valnikov
  • Jorge Cervera Jr. as Dr. Rivera
  • Marilyn Chris as Marvis Skinner
  • Doris Belack as Married Woman
  • Michael Dudikoff as Millie's houseboy
  • Lou Cutell as Mr. Limpwood
  • Anne Ramsey as Bessie Callahan
  • Michael D. Gainsborough as Capt. Jack Packerton
  • Robin Raymond as Millie
  • Billy Beck as Man at Cemetery
  • Herta Ware as Grand Duchess
  • Christopher Lloyd as Arnold's Collector
  • Adele Malis-Morey as Woman at Cemetery
  • James Woods as The Fiddler
  • Awards

    1981 Edgar Allan Poe Awards
  • Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture — Harold Becker
  • References

    The Black Marble Wikipedia
    The Black Marble IMDb The Black Marble