The Black Marble

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.

The Black Marble
DVD release cover
Directed byHarold Becker
Produced byFrank Capra, Jr.
Written byJoseph Wambaugh
StarringRobert Foxworth
Paula Prentiss
Harry Dean Stanton
Barbara Babcock
John Hancock
Raleigh Bond
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyOwen Roizman
Edited byMaury Winetrobe
The Black Marble Company
Distributed byAVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • March 7, 1980 (1980-03-07)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States


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.

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, which was written on February 22, 1980,[1] 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.


1981 Edgar Allan Poe Awards


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