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  • Schlesinger made a great action-suspense film and married it to the artistry of unique talents… Hoffman was, by then, a dynamic, young and incredibly versatile film actor with three Academy Award nominations already under his belt for "The Graduate," "Midnight Cowboy," and "Lenny."

    But the key to "Marathon Man" was the chemistry between its stars… Perhaps one of the most gut-wrenching and most memorable scenes in the film comes when Hoffman is captured and tortured by Olivier who plays the role of a mean and vicious and sadistic Nazi war criminal, Christian Szell… Olivier's performance resulted in a 1976 Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor…

    In 1945, Szell ran the experimental camp at Auschwitz where they called him the White Angel… He was a dentist and could provide escape for any Jew who was willing to pay the price… He started out with gold, naturally, but very quickly worked his way up to diamonds…

    As Szell saw the end early, he sneaked his brother into America with the diamonds… And they were right here, in New York, in a safe deposit-box until Szell's brother got killed in a head-on collision with an oil truck…

    Uniquely built, and with a marvelous, rugged face, Roy Scheider, well known for his strong performances in "The French Connection," "Klute," and "Jaws," came on board as Hoffman's mysterious businessman brother, getting the rare chance to play a character that's both hero and villain… Doc is a fascinating guy because he chooses to work out his problems in a much different way than Dustin's character does… He was very touched and very moved by his father's death, but he abandoned all his hopes for whatever he intended to do and he became a spy, a killer, a very jaded personality…

    In doing something truly suspenseful, Schlesinger accomplished a film that's largely about fear and it's about pain and the infliction of pain because of fear… The thrilling sensation of great expectations came on the 47th Street in the diamond district in New York, where Schlesinger gets the best of it…
  • deathinleamington28 July 2005
    Quite apart from the infamous torture scene, which I found extremely difficult to watch without howling in horror (actually that's a lie, I DID howl) this film is FULL of nervous tension that occasionally boils over - the way it's been done is masterful. The bouncing-ball scene in the darkened building should be utterly prosaic, but it really isn't - the way it's choreographed and shot brings such an air of menace and trepidation you'll be biting your nails off. There's much of a similar vein in 'Marathon Man', and although the storyline is sometimes almost buried through the relentless suffocating tension, it's extremely watchable (with a cushion to hide behind at certain points) and one of the greatest non-Hitchcock thrillers I've ever seen. Don't hesitate!
  • Marathon Man starts off rather slowly, and for the first hour at least, it feels as if you're watching a human drama rather than a thriller. However, unlike a lot of thrillers; Marathon Man uses this time to create characters and establish the situation, which ultimately pays off later on in the film when the movie really gets going. When the film does step on the gas, it is as thrilling as any thriller you will ever see; Dustin Hoffman is subjected to all sorts of things, most notably an excruciating torture sequence. This scene is powerful and painful on it's own, but it is made more so by the fact that we have already gotten to know the character and therefore we feel sympathy for him, as well as cringing at the images we see on screen. That scene alone is enough to propel the movie in the realms of greatness, as it is simply one of the most powerful that cinema has ever given us; but this movie is a hell of a lot more than just a torture sequence.

    The plot revolves around a car crash that takes place in downtown New York. One of the men in this crash is the brother of the infamous Nazi war criminal, Szell, who has some diamonds hidden in a safety deposit box. From then on, many members of a US defence organisation, known as "The Division", begin turning up dead and soon after, Thomas Levy, a college student, obsessive runner and the brother of one of The Division's members, becomes embroiled in the plot. It is easy to see the parallels between the plot movie and World War 2, from the withered ex-Nazi (indicative of the state of the actual regime), to his enemies being American; the movie has world war 2 written all over it. The film is excellently directed throughout by John Schlesinger. Schlesinger, probably best known for "Midnight Cowboy" does a fantastic job of keeping the audience on the edge of their seat for the duration of the movie. A constant foreboding feel is created, and you're never truly sure of what will happen. This is exactly what you want in a thriller, as nobody likes it when they can predict what will happen next.

    Dustin Hoffman takes the lead role of Thomas Levy. Dustin Hoffman is a fantastic actor, and he certainly gets to flex his acting muscles here, in a film which sees him go through all manner of unpleasant scenes and also hold up lots of relationships with various characters, as well as drawing sympathy from the audience to accent his situation. Roy Scheider (of Jaws fame) stars opposite Dustin Hoffman in the movie. Scheider doesn't get a great deal of screentime in the film, but he still manages to do good things with the time he does have. The third lead role, that of the Nazi war criminal, is taken by Lawrence Olivier, who is also a fantastic actor and gives a great performance in this film. He gives his character just the right atmosphere, and we can tell just by looking at the man that he is cold and uncaring, and also past it; which is the crux of his character.

    The film ends with a spectacular sequence, which sees the movie and the two centrals characters come to a satisfying conclusion. The characters are the central theme in this movie, and had the movie have ended differently it could have unravelled everything that it had created, but the movie's end is absolutely perfect and does the entire movie justice. A brilliant piece of cinema.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I first saw MARATHON MAN in its initial theatrical release when I was 13 years old, and the years haven't diminished its power for me. Sure, the plot gets a little more convoluted than it absolutely has to be, but in a way it's because William Goldman's screen adaptation of his brilliant novel takes into account the all-too-human character flaws of his heroes and villains, and the mistakes people make when they're fearful and paranoid. While the performances are uniformly fine (with Roy Scheider deserving a place in The Suave Hall of Fame for his portrayal of Doc Levy, a.k.a. government agent "Scylla." If he hadn't been so charismatic and engaging, his murder in mid-film wouldn't have such impact, and the movie would suffer for it), I think the special secret ingredient that gives MARATHON MAN its punch is the atmosphere. The naturalistic, sometimes washed-out color palette almost lends the film a black-and-white film noir look. Almost every person in the film is angry, cynical, emotionally wounded, and/or generally negative in some way. And what really struck me was that on screen, it seems like chaos and disaster are exploding all over the world. Look at the riots and bombings taking place in France in early scenes with Doc and Janeway (nicely subtle homosexual subtext there, by the way). Also, if you listen carefully to newscasts in the background, you'll notice there's nothing but bad news: murders, suicides, all kinds of violence all over (including the "chicken" game between the old Jew and Szell's brother as the film begins). MARATHON MAN isn't a happy film -- even when our hero wins, he's already lost so much his victory seems hollow indeed -- but it never fails to grab and haunt me each time I watch it. If you love the film, you'll want to own the DVD not only for the superb letterboxed print, but also for the terrific extras, including both new and vintage making-of documentaries with Hoffman, Scheider, Keller, Goldman, producer Robert Evans and other major MM players, as well as rare rehearsal footage and the original theatrical trailer.
  • Suspense filled, is the only adequate description I can think of. The direction is bleak and taut, the movie's music theme is like a growing menace and the acting of the leads is peerless. The film's most famous scene, the dentist chair interrogation has become part of pop culture, and deservedly so. This, along with many other scenes, including the enemies breaking into the bathroom, are a masterful example of how to create almost unbearable tension on film.
  • I have always found this to be a very entertaining, involving, taut suspense movie with some very dramatic scenes. I've seen in three times and liked it better each time, particularly since it's been available on DVD which enhanced the sound from mono to stereo, and the 1.85:1 widescreen enhancing the cinematography.

    I didn't find the infamous (this was quite a buzz when the film came out) dentist scene to be as terrifying as it was made up to be and the references to the McCarthy hearings are a bit annoying and typical of Hollywood director John Scheslinger. It's also a typical modern-day film in which the U.S government's police agencies are corrupt (oh, puhleeze, filmmakers - think of something new).

    However, despite those negatives, the film is fascinating with no dry spots despite its two-hour length. There is a nice variety of action scenes and very interesting characters. Marthe Keller never looked better. Too bad she didn't make more movies in the U.S. Dustin Hoffman, as he did so well in the '70s, keeps your attention and Laurence Olivier is absolutely riveting. This is a terrific thriller, start to finish.
  • The high ratings for Marathon Man are no doubt focused on the substantial talent assembled to pull it off, and they succeed as long as one dispenses with every expectation of logic or common sense. Schlesinger builds substantial suspense, and there are plenty of satisfying scenes, but the plotting and story points are ridiculous beyond measure. This might not be a problem if it were any other type of picture, but the progressive unfolding of an initial puzzle to a somewhat sensible (or at least rational) set of revelations is one of the hallmarks of the government intelligence thriller. The story here, however, is so thin that virtually nothing happens for the entire first half of the picture, and the second half is really nothing more than one long chase sequence. The biggest problem is that the central objective of the action is precipitated by a murder that, if contemplated for more than about twenty seconds, reveals itself to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. And the illogical story points are not just structural. There are numerous details throughout that are obviously (and, to my mind, condescendingly) designed as mere conveniences for the the action, regardless of how inane or inexplicable they may be. The veneer of star power and sophisticated production values did not--for this viewer, at any rate--successfully obfuscate the movie's considerable flaws.
  • Amidst the the early morning glare of the rising sun and whatever few others are up at this time, a young man jogs along the beaten track in an attempt to keep in shape. This, as he spots a fellow jogger and begins a fairly innocent 'chase', although the individual manages to outrun our young man to some pretty ominous music. The entire exchange is eventually inter-cut in a bizarre manner with some found footage of a marathon runner completely disconnected to the events we're witnessing. Marathon Man begins with this rather simplistic sequence of a young man jogging and very slowly turns what is an everyday activity, or an unspectacular image, into something that is quite sinister. It pitches the tone of the film perfectly, establishing an everyday guy and placing him in a sinister chase situation which it is discovered is so easily to get involved in, while systematically foreshadowing the eerie turns the narrative will take to do with having to run for one's life.

    Marathon Man is like that; there's something very effective behind its ability to inject terror into a relatively routine situation. That very primal sense of 'running for one's life', whatever the situation, is tapped into perfectly by director John Schlesinger, who paints a bleak and uncomplimentary picture of New York City and of the scummy, lying and double-dealing lowlifes whom inhabit it. Amongst all of this is the character of Thomas Levy (Hoffman), nicknamed 'Babe', a student of history who is attempting to follow in his now deceased father's footsteps by engaging academically in the same field. Babe will later end up following in the same footsteps as his another family member; his brother Henry (Scheider), but for all the wrong reasons. Even Henry is referred to by his nickname for a lot of the film, that being 'Doc', thus repeating the process of use of an alias and tapping into that highly consistent theme of suspicion and what one's true identity is. In a film in which a lot of people act as if they're one thing in order to garner an advantage, this use of improper name and alias to act as an alter-ego is interesting.

    But Marathon Man provides us with a ray of light in the form of Babe, a down to Earth and accessible lead with whom we are able to relate in his innocence and copious levels of naivety to his situation when espionage and betrayal catches up with him. In what might appear to be a complex and rather deep story revolving around said narrative characteristics of espionage, smuggling and spies; it is ironic that mere fate brings certain people to New York for certain reasons. This, when a stark disagreement between two elderly men about something that relates to times and events far deeper than mere road rage.

    If Babe is a figure cut from a stone that shy but eager in his personality and traits, then Laurence Oliver's Christian Szell, a doctor well informed in the art of dentistry, represents the polar-opposite as this elderly and frail man, but someone who has made a life out of other people's sheer misery; a man that has seemingly existed to inflict pain and suffering wherever he's gone. When we first encounter him, he is a lonesome figure in a heavily fortified and secluded place of dwelling in the middle of a South American jungle. Several newspapers are scattered around, some in English; some in Spanish and some in German which establishes a sense of expertise in language, although the items that stand out are the uncanny skulls which line the shelves, most of which contain odd shaped teeth which catch our eye. The sequence informs us of a man whom requires security and isolation as well as someone whom is most probably trilingual. In one swooping camera shot, we are left to read into as much as we can about this one individual, while a lesser film of the thriller ilk would have seen a bunch of people gather in a room; brought Szell's face up on a screen and laid out everything for the uninformed characters and audience alike.

    Babe's involvement in what it is he ends up neck deep in is ultimately instigated by the unsightly sequence in which the death of somebody we do not see coming occurs in his arms. The battered and bloodied body of a blade attack victim acting as the first truly pieces of shocking imagery Babe has seen, the blood from the body staining his plain, bright white vest that he wears thus staining him, and therefore linking him to the world the departing life was connected to. The film is a tight, gripping piece; a film that clashes a world of smuggling, deceit and murder with the quieter, more routine world of a young man who's nervous around girls and just attempting to make-good out of some pretty harsh living conditions.

    It progresses to encompass a series of quite extraordinary sequences, the one of which everyone remembers more fondly than others being the torture sequence involving a dentist's drill, a sadomasochistic game of fear; terror; power play; ambiguous questions; honest but disbelieved answers and sheer pain. One other passage of play sees the lead running down a street in the early hours of the morning, whatever light there is being provided by way of the street lamps, as what we perceive to be a wailing, screeching musical score encompassing this, only for it to turn out to be an approaching ambulance which hurtles past, catching us all off guard. Marathon Man is a taut thriller, drawing its audience in and gripping them with a number of basic conventions, raging from the use of a mere MacGuffin to instilling a very visceral, very effective sense of fear by way of ambiguous character intentions and pure threat. If ever there was an essential thriller to see, it may well be Marathon Man.
  • alex-fry19 June 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    There are so many things to like about this movie, but what has always bothered me is the Szell character linked up with the Division, not to mention Karl and Erhard. Why doesn't Szell just go to the bank with his loyal subjects, get the diamonds and split? Why doesn't Janeway just off Szell, Karl and Erhard and get all the diamonds for himself (providing he gets the key, of course)? Or why don't Scylla and Janeway team up. Obviously the Division isn't all that if an old Nazi dentist and his henchmen can get rid of its prime operative. Roy Scheider's Scylla/Doc is, hands down, the best character in this story. He's supposedly a super-spy type, yet he transports the diamonds from New York to Paris for Szell. I have trouble accepting the premise and, therefore, the bit. Definitely worth watching, but certainly no "Boys from Brazil" (which has its own issues, mind you).
  • Ok, I like Dustin Hoffman. I like Roy Scheider, and Lawrence Olivier was a great actor. Fine. The dentist scene is visceral and creepy and quite memorable. Fine. People I respect have said many positive things about William Goldman. OK.

    Having said that, this movie rates HIGH on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. The plot is unthinkably, profoundly inane and laughable and nonsensical. I.N.A.N.E. Let me get this right, and I am quoting other commenters here, `a Columbia graduate student (Hoffman) unwittingly thrust into a game of deadly international intrigue when his brother (Scheider) is killed by a Nazi fugitive (Olivier) looking to smuggle a stash of diamonds he had left over from World War II after escaping justice' (virek213) and `Dustin Hoffman plays a marathon runner whose CIA brother is killed by an evil former nazi played by Laurence Olivier.' (Adam Morrison). You're kidding, right? Take out the words `Olivier' and `Hoffman' and we have the makings of a plot that doesn't even pass the laugh test.

    Ask yourself, why is Hoffman's character involved? Because, ala Dr. Evil, Olivier stabs Scheider BUT DOESN'T KILL HIM. He just leaves. I mean, just slit the guy's throat. Come on. Even Scott Evil knows this. Just get a gun and shoot the dude. Oh, wait, I forgot, we have to leave him there, NOT QUITE DEAD, so that we can spend an enormous amount of complicated energy panicking about whether the guy we easily could have killed happened to say anything to anyone before he died. Brilliant. I mean, did any of you people think of this when you wrote your reviews? I am not making this up - there are POSITIVE reviews for this farce here.

    Think this one through. I am an evil Nazi dentist. I decide to send a woman, a spy, to America, to seduce the brother of an American spy that I work with, so that I can. oh Jesus, I don't know. maybe if later and we're in a fantastical scenario where I need to kill the brother/find the brother, then she can - surprise - turn on him, since she will be the person he relies on, HE WILL BE COMPLETELY FOILED, and I will have succeeded! As part of this clever strategy, I send my goons (one of whom comically limps - where was the `BWAHAHAHAHA!'?, one of whom is Al Neri, on loan from Michael Corleone) to beat them up! Why? Who knows? Best not to ask!

    I keep my diamonds in a bank in New York City. As the William Devane character says, `and now he's [Olivier] going to expose himself to incredible risk!' to come get the diamonds. Smart. Good plan. NYC. Good place to keep all my valuables, so if I ever need 'em, it will be INCREDIBLY RISKY to get 'em. But only risky because my brother, who had the key all along and could have just walked in there and gotten the diamonds at any time, ever, has just died because he could not overcome his evil irresistible impulse and ran into (I am not making this up) a gas truck, which exploded.

    As for the scene at the house. I am just at a loss. I don't even know where to start. There are 5 people at the house, and 0 out of 5 of them behave with any logic. If you think from each of their standpoints what they are doing, and really try to puzzle it out, it's just nonsensical. I think the writers just decided, OK, everybody needs to be dead at the end of this scene, except for Hoffman. Then they tried to work backward and figure out how this whole shootout would actually play out, logically. Then they said, screw it, and went to lunch.

    It's important, when you want to keep a low profile in an area where you could be recognized, and also you're an evil Nazi with a past, to bark at Jewish people in a screamy sort of ordering tone, so that you keep yourself disguised and don't jog any memories. And how many seconds before the woman who recognizes the Nazi gets run over by the car was it obvious that this clichéd movie convention was about to happen? For me, it was only about 8 seconds.

    The closing scene is just laugh out loud funny. I mean, could it have been more awkward? Did that all take place so that our hero is not gunning someone down and is therefore morally able to claim the high ground? Nazi has to die, but hero can't just kill him. Isn't self-defense a little more standard of a movie convention that they could have gone with? He just trips on the steps and falls? Please. How lame is that? As lame as this whole moronic movie.
  • John Schlesinger's 1976 classic about a graduate student in New York City who becomes the center of a mean old ex-Nazi war criminal dentist and the government's objective to throw him over. Dustin Hoffman provides us with an excellent performance as the 'Marathon Man'. He was almost forty when he played the role and with his acting skills he makes us believe he is actually a graduate student. Roy Scheider is perfect as Hoffman's crafty and slick older brother who works for the C.I.A. Scheider really does a lot with his role making him perhaps even the coolest character in the movie. Veteran Shakespearan actor Laurence Olivier gives an incredible performance as the evil ex-Nazi that rightfully earned him a Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. John Schlesinger provides incendiary direction, and the screenplay is consistently engrossing and full of twists. If you are looking for one hell of a suspense flick with a lot of action you should definitely check out 'Marathon Man' at your local videostore. 'Marathon Man' should have earned Oscar nominations for -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role - Dustin Hoffman, Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Laurence Olivier, Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Roy Scheider, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. Watch out for the creepy 'dentist' scene. Grade: B+
  • 1970s movies are so cynical, aren't they? Dark, depressing, and often grainy-looking and washed out. "Marathon Man" fits that description. It's good, of course - very good - but it's not exactly a good time. Know what I mean?

    William Goldman, one of Hollywood's few celebrity screenwriters, wrote both the original novel and the script for this film version. I find him a bit overrated, but here he does a good job of elevating hack-level thriller material into a sort of art form. The beginning of the film is particularly well-written and intriguing, since it's full of creepy and cryptic events that are not immediately explained. But, alas, I find the ultimate explanation of these events to be rather prosaic and disappointing.

    So, I think the movie's strengths lie in the acting and directing, more so than the story. Olivier and Scheider give particularly great performances, and Marthe Keller comes across as appropriately sweet and sexy (her big "secret," though, should be really easy for anyone to guess!) I'm a little less enamored of Dustin Hoffman, whose character is inexplicably nicknamed "Babe." He's just way too old to be a typical graduate student (almost forty years old, to be precise), and he simply doesn't have much charisma to me. Usually I like normal-looking, non-glamorous actors, but somehow Hoffman doesn't float my boat.

    Still, it's hard not to sympathize with the poor guy while he's being pursued, beaten, tortured etc. The "dental horror" scene is still quite effective, though it's rather short; I was more impressed by the subsequent chase through the dark streets of NYC. (The city, by the way, looks like a hellish, crime-infested, debris-strewn pit in this movie - like it does in most 1970s productions!)

    In the end, "Marathon Man" isn't quite another "French Connection," but it's got more than enough suspense to crush a lot of the dross that infests theaters today. It's worth watching just for the terrifying scene when the bad guys start tearing Hoffman's door off its hinges - it's good stuff.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In a nutshell, John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" is one of the greatest thrillers of the 70's, an intricate and paranoid masterpiece, served by an impeccable casting: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, Marthe Keller and Richard Bright.

    Thomas Babbington Levy aka 'Babe' studies history in Columbia University and prepares a thesis on Tyranny in America. He's also a marathon runner, training every day in Central Park, trying to emulate his idol, the Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila. A sepia footage of Bikila's victory in Tokyo Olympic Games punctuates the opening credits sequence; although the athlete is more notorious for having won the previous marathon in Rome … barefoot. Bikila explained; "I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism"

    These two words hit a sensitive chord in Babe. His father killed himself during the McCarthyism, leaving unanswered the question of his innocence. Babe's thesis can't avoid this dark parenthesis as reminds his teacher (who admired his father) and Babe acknowledges that. The wound is even harder to conceal because he's torn between his filial love and his personal admiration of virtues like bravery. His father could have faced the hearings and be a model if not a hero, he chose to be a victim, not even a martyr since he inflicted his own punishment by pulling the trigger. Babe keeps the gun in a drawer like the infamous weight of guilt in his heart, the detestable idea of having either a traitor or a weak man as a father.

    Why are you keeping the gun? Asks his brother 'Doc' (Roy Scheider), Babe doesn't know or maybe he does and keeps it as a warning, he might end like his father, with whom he's got a lot in common, while Doc, more of a respectable businessman type would have been disowned. In a way, Babe lives his life like a marathon; it's a matter of determination, as said Bikila: being the fastest on the long run. The secret is endurance and the capability of canalizing the pain and keeping on running. He carries the infamy of his father's lack of 'heroism' and punishes himself as to exorcise his inner demons. And the secret is to find balance by sticking to the weight of past through his history studies and escaping from it through running.

    The character study is almost imperceptible behind the Hitchcockian and sometimes James Bond-like feeling of some scenes, but there's no doubt that Babe as a tormented man, haunted by his past, is the center of the psychological drama. And as counterpart, the film provides an unforgettable villain through Dr. Christian Szell, a Nazi-dentist played by Laurence Olivier in a virtuoso performance. Olivier is not only scary as the White Angel, but like many iconic villains, he's not genuinely frightening but keeps a gentlemanly attitude that makes him even scarier. The softness and even carefulness he displays when checking Babe's teeth is more horror-inducing than the piercing scream when he probes a cavity. I'm referring of course to one of the scariest scenes of cinema's history.

    "Is it safe?' repeatedly asks Dr. Szell to an exhausted Babe, he has just been kidnapped, saw his brother dying in his arms, and has been near-drowned in his bathtub: Babe is naturally baffled by the question. The efficiency of the scene is conveyed by our total empathy toward Babe because we know he doesn't know. What safe? What the "it" refers to? I've seen this scene enough to remember the extraordinary close-up right after Babe replies sarcastically, Olivier is so scary that we immediately figure Babe's next reaction, "no, it's not safe, it's dangerous, be careful". The directing and the focus on Olivier put us on the same emotional wavelength than Babe and we endure the scene just as if we were in his place. If only because going to the dentist is a painful experience, but relatively banal so anyone can relate to it.

    Yet again, there's more than a simple scene terrorizing viewers for the sake of it. Szell immediately applies some oil of cloves and the pain disappears. He gives Babe a cruel choice between telling what he knows and being relieved from the pain, or keeping silent and suffering, and when you know nothing, when truth is as painful as silence, you're stuck in an existential nightmare. To a certain degree, Babe is pushed to the same dead-end as his father during the hearings. Except that he manages to escape from the bad guys and inevitably runs for his life. The chase sequence is another brilliant piece of filmmaking. Babe is out of breath because he's a distance runner, not a sprinter but he runs for his survival, he decides to live, he embodies the same determination than his idol Bikila, fittingly running barefoot during the whole chase.

    But if he's clearly determined, he's not heroic yet. As Szell said, he belongs to the past, while Babe studies the past. In a way, Szell is the one that confronts Babe to his inner demons, and it's only when Babe gets back to Szell and risks his life to avenge the death of his brother, to make Szell swallow the same diamonds that were bought with the blood of Jewish people in Concentration Camp. It's only when he finally confronts his own bravery and caused Szell to impale himself with the same retractable blade that killed his brother, killing him without pulling the trigger, that Babe finally cleared his conscience, and it's not surprising that the last thing he does is throwing his father's gun in the water.

    I know I could have explored other themes, other performances, but I just feel that, like a good wine, the film gets better after more viewings revealing more hidden gems beneath the thriller surface, like the fact that it's a fascinating character study and one of Dustin Hoffman's greatest roles.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This pursuit-thriller concerns about previous aging Nazi Dr. Szell(Laurence Olivier), a Joseph Mengele-alike, an arch-nasty denominated the 'White Angel of Auschwitz', he has an insidious scheme to get a priceless diamonds and he will not stop at nothing . A graduate history student named Babe(a superb Dustin Hoffman) and expert runner in N.Y. is drawn into a criminal whirlpool. He becomes unwittingly involved to sadistic Nazi, along with his brother(Roy Scheider) an his European fiancée(Marthe Keller). Meanwhile, Babe is pursued by the Szell's hoodlums(Richard Bright, Mark Lawrence). He's helped by a secret agent(William Devane) from an organization called 'the Division' which also belongs his brother and whose members start to be killed one by one. Szell has a diamonds treasure hidden into a safety box and is aware which 'the runner' knows whether or no it is safe to go to pick it up.

    This exciting movie packs noisy action, thrills, chills,love story, betrayal and is quite entertaining. This intense thriller that holds your interest throughout, certainly is worth watch seeing for Olivier's brilliant, credible performance as repellent and murderous villain, including one of the creepiest scenes of tortures ever made. Interesting movie but with some holes and gaps and ridiculous scenes , as the silly chase at the beginning when the brother of the infamous Nazi war criminal undergoes a race cars causing a collision course, as at the ending when the Doctor Szell is unbelievable recognized by people here and there. Suspenseful musical score by Michael Small and adequate cinematography by Conrad L. Hall. The motion picture is well directed by Englishman John Schelesinger. He's a dramas(Far from the madding crowd,Day of Locust, Yanks, Midnight cowboy) expert and suspense(Believers, eye for eye, The innocents, Falcon and snowman)movies.
  • Dustin Hoffman looks in great shape playing a Columbia graduate student, still haunted by his father's suicide (and perhaps in training for the New York marathon), who gets mixed up by proxy in his nefarious older brother's activities; seems his sibling has been working secretly as a courier in stolen gems, and has run afoul of Szell, a.k.a. The White Angel, the most notorious Nazi war-criminal still alive. Director John Schlesinger exercises a gleefully nasty side here, staging some dental torture scenes that are just about impossible to watch, yet not all of the pieces in William Goldman's adaptation of his own bestseller fit accordingly; Schlesinger just presses ahead so that the story gaps won't be so noticeable. There's much zig-zagging across the continents at the beginning, with red herrings, street bombs, and character intricacies just swept under the carpet. We learn so little about Hoffman's brother (played by an equally fit Roy Scheider) that, by the film's climax, we still don't know whose side he was he on--or why his cohorts lost trust in him. Marthe Keller's German mystery beauty is another character muddle, a pretense of writer Goldman who was really out to stack this deck against Hoffman's runner. Laurence Olivier's knife-wielding Nazi beast is perplexing as well, alternating a steely coldness with an aged confusion (why, for instance, is he staking out jewelry stores just for today's market values--isn't the diamond trade this man's forte?). The film could have eased up a bit on the torture scenes (which aren't really suspenseful as much as they excruciating) and been a bit more clear-headed about the chess game taking place. It leaves a bushel of questions behind, though it is a handsome piece of work, well-cast and with an intrinsically satisfying finale. *** from ****
  • I've seen this at least four times over a ten year span, and I have yet to see anything good in it other than the famous dental torture scene. There's some violence in it that was probably shocking at the time (I found out about it from a book called Ultra Violent Movies) and it surely gets some Ooohs and Ahhhs from the Holocaust crowd, but as a thriller I rate it very low. It's ugly, unconvincing, and I found the characters flat and undeveloped (except for Hoffman, who I find dull and sometimes annoying in this picture). Olivier elevates the movie a bit with a chilling performance, but the rest have little to work with. It's a B-movie with A actors.
  • Have you ever gone to a dentist before? Of course you have. (Unless you're British!) And that's why the torture scene in "Marathon Man" is arguably the most famous of all mainstream torture scenes. Even the infamous ear segment in "Reservoir Dogs" fails to relate to people around the world the same way as this does. Not everyone has had his or her ear chopped off.

    Anyone who has gone to a dentist before can relate to the fear and excruciating pain that Babe (Dustin Hoffman) experiences when he is asked, "Is it safe?" and has no idea what his interrogator is talking about, then finds himself being given a root canal without any Novocain.

    The interrogator is Szell (Laurence Olivier), a dreaded German murderer who carried out awful deeds during World War II and offered Jews a free ticket out--for a hefty price.

    Szell's question ("Is it safe?") exists because he needs to know whether or not it is safe to withdraw diamonds he stole from Jews during World War II from a safety deposit box. As the film opens, Szell's brother dies in a car crash, which sets up this entire aspect of the plot, since his brother had the key to the vault.

    Babe's brother, Doc (Roy Scheider, "JAWS"), comes to visit him in New York City, but turns up at his apartment with stab wounds. Babe soon finds out that Doc was part of a secret "Division" (CIA black-ops stuff) that was on Svell's trail. Believing that Doc may have spilled the beans to Babe, Svell kidnaps the college graduate and this is where the famous torture scene starts. "Is it safe? Is it safe?"

    "I don't know what you're talking about!"

    "Marathon Man" is often considered a classic of the thriller genre, and it certainly is. It has its flaws, and sometimes it seems a bit average from a technical viewpoint, but it set the stage for many gritty, coarse thrillers that would follow in later years. It is still arguably one of the greatest of them all.

    The title comes from the fact that Hoffman's character, Babe, is a marathon jogger. He runs every single day, and so when he finally manages to escape from Szell's grasp, you can imagine what a hard time they have chasing after him. In retrospect, the title takes on two different (and ironic) indications.

    The well-known story about Olivier's advice to Hoffman on the set of the film has been referenced many times (even by Steve Martin in "Saturday Night Live"), so it almost seems pointless to divulge into it. Basically, in the words of Steve Martin, "Hoffman came to the set one day looking absolutely wretched, and Sir Larry said, 'Dusty, you look absolutely wretched!', and it turns out that he had been awake for twenty-four hours, because at this point in the movie, his character had been, so Larry replied, 'Oh, Dusty, why don't you just try acting?', and the American retorted, 'Act on this, you British fag,' and Larry replied, 'I asked for a meal, not a snack!'"

    So perhaps Steve Martin made up the end of that story, but the beginning is true. Dustin was a true "method actor," and by the end of the film, it's clearly evident that Dustin is indeed quite tired, both mentally and physically. I doubt whether acting could unleash the same sort of deadness that shines through in Babe had Hoffman simply tried "acting."

    Another arguable fact is that this is Laurence Olivier's most famous role. It's certainly his most villainous. It's a career highlight; in a role that many critics called Olivier's finest hour, and I think should certainly be remembered as his most devilish. "Is it safe? Is it safe?" Every time it's spoken it sends a shiver down my spine.

    Two very important films of Dustin Hoffman's career came out in 1976: "All the President's Men" and, of course, "Marathon Man." They are both universally regarded as some of his best work, and it's not a surprising fact, really, since it's true that they really *are* some of his best work. (Quite incidentally, the renowned William Goldman wrote both screenplays, and the latter of the two titles was based on his own novel.)

    Thrillers of such striking power and ferocity are rarely made nowadays in Hollywood. "Marathon Man" is cold, hard, gritty and dirty, and one of the best of the genre. It's a modern-day masterpiece, perhaps barely short of greatness, but a masterpiece nonetheless. You may never want to go to the dentist again.

    It's "safe" to say that "Marathon Man" is a terrific movie.

    4.5/5 stars.

    • John Ulmer
  • Olivier vs. Hoffman, that's what this film comes down to, and I'm afraid Olivier triumphs- but just barely. You know the plot, you know what happens, you know the "is it safe?" line- it's basically old guard acting vs. the new guys, and it's as good as Ali vs. Foreman. Hoffman is great, as is Scheider and everyone else in the cast, but the film clearly belongs to Olivier. Imagine if they remade this film now- would it be Hoffman vs. The Cast of Friends? Sad to contemplate the state of the art, but in the 70's it was vital and this film was and is one of the best.
  • Maybe this movie was 20 years ago, a good one. But from our present viewpoint it is awful. Very good actors with a story that is anything but not logical. An old Nazi hiding in South America, made a fortune on the golden teeth of jews in a KZ (besides all the tragedy, this is actually comical, because you can see how much the people in the 70´s knew about the holocaust. A fleeing dentist, that´s it?????) This man invested his money in diamonds, that he cannot sell without problems, because the jews control the business. And the whole movie is about the paranoia of this Nazi. Of course with some more sidestories that are also unnecessary, like the father, that shot himself, because he couldn`t stand the McCarthy commission. The same story made today would be a flop, so why the people are giving good notes.........?? A 4, not more!!!!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Marathon Man" is a taut thriller steeped in paranoia, and it's one of those movies that tends to linger in the brain long after you've seen it. Great performances from Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, William Devane and Laurence Olivier. Scheider maintains a cool shrewdness as an undercover agent, and Olivier, well . . . that guy's a malevolent bastard.

    The bathroom tub scene was a particular nail-biter, and the dental sequence was especially novel. Hearing the phrase, "Is it safe" now actually means something, and I'm willing to bet that every time I hear it henceforth, it'll evoke that ominous scene. It belongs with the other powerful one-liners in cinema history.

    "Marathon Man" is well-written, suspenseful, and you don't see the twists coming.

    Great movie.

  • bbraat28 April 2005
    I'm sure film students will take me to task but I was amazed by this film. It wasn't so much boring as annoying from the acting to the the music. The movie rambled on and on toward a predictable ending.

    Supposedly the story took place in New York City but it was different from the city in which I live. In the New York City of Marathon Man there are three cars on the FDR Drive at night. In that NYC there is no one on the sidewalks at night.

    I originally thought the movie was made in 1970 and thus it may have been ahead of it's time. Instead I learned that it was made in 1976 and thus it wasn't as groundbreaking as I had hoped.
  • The movie "Marathon Man" starts out with a car accident where Christian Szell's, Laurence Olivier, brother Klaus, Ben Dova, is killed. The word comes back to Szell in Paraguay, or is it Brazil, that Szell's fortune in diamonds is in danger, why? For some reason Szell and his henchmen take off for NYC after being for some 30 years in hiding from the international courts for war crimes. Why does Szell blow his cover and expose himself to jail or worse? We really don't seem to know. All I could gather from the plot is that Szell wanted to know, as he kept saying over and over in the movie, "Is it safe"? Safe from what? There are diamonds in a safe-deposit box in a curtain midtown bank and Szell had the key to it so what was he so worried about since his brother Klaus had no trouble at all going in and out of the bank with the diamonds, as we've seen in the beginning of the movie which Klaus must have been doing for years. Szell walking all over the streets of NYC without a care in the world why would't he be safe when he goes in and out in just this one bank with his henchmen, one who has a limp, there protecting him? Klaus when he was alive also could have sent them, the diamonds, registered mail back to Szell in South America if he was so worried about them being lost or stolen. Why now was Szell who seemed to have no fear or trouble at all in murdering a number of people, one on a crowed midtown street in broad daylight, so paranoid about? It turns out that Szell is somehow connected with this super-secretive US government agency who's protecting him from the law for services rendered. So why can't they take care of Szell's problems, whatever they are! They've been doing it since the end of WWII and it seems that the diamonds is what that agency is paying Szell for his services. Later in the movie Szell goes to, of all places, the midtown diamond district on West 47th St to see what diamonds are selling on the open market! Why on earth does Szell have to go to the diamond district in midtown Manhattan to get an evaluation of how much diamonds are worth? Wasn't Szell informed enough, being involved with diamonds for years, to know this for himself? and why does he go to the diamond district in midtown Manhattan to get an evaluation where it seems that everybody there is a survivor from the concentration camp that Szell brutally ran during WWII and where he'd be immediately recognized! On top of all that crazy Szell acts toward those people there as if he was still running a concentration camp and that they were still his prisoners? The movie is so confusing with a convoluted love story between Babe, Dustin Hoffman, and the mysterious Columbia Collage student Helga, Marthe Keller, added in that almost half way through the film. I think that the director, John Schlesinger, had to put in a scene in where William Devane who plays Jeneway, also a member of this super-secretive government agency, who like Simon Okland in the movie "Psycho" after he "saved" Babe from Szell's henchmen starts talking into the camera. Jeneway looks as if he were addressing the movie audience as he tells Babe everything about Szell and his brother Doc,Roy Scheider, who also works for the agency, who also works with Szell. There's also the diamonds that Szell has hidden in a bank safe deposit box in a mid-town Manhattan bank and the Nazis and the super-secretive agency and and blab blab blab in order so that those of us, still awake and watching, can get just some idea of what the heck is going on in the movie! Just who the hell is this guy Jenaway anyway and who's he working for in the first place? Szell? the CIA? the KBG? the Brooklyn Dodgers? Well anyway getting back to more important things in "Marathon Man". One of my favorite and most exciting moments in the film is when Babe escapes from Szell clutches and tooth drilling equipment and is being chased all over NYC by Szell's boys. Beaten bloodied dirty after being brutally tortured and without having slept for what seemed like days and only dressed in pajama bottoms Babe flags down a cab by the Brooklyn Bridge getting away from Szell's gang. Babe then goes all the way uptown to his apartment in Washington Heights a good ten miles or so. You would think that the cabbie would know enough not to pick up someone looking like an escapee from a mental institution, for that's just what Babe looked like. Not only can he be dangerous but just looking at his style of dress it's obvious that he doesn't have any money to pay for the long and expensive taxi ride. Not only does the cabbie pick Babe up but instead of driving Babe to the nearest hospital or police station to get help, due to the condition that he's in, he drives all the way up-town with Babe half-naked and out cold in the back seat. The cab driver is then surprised when he reaches his destination that Babe doesn't have any cash to pay for the fare? It must have been the cab drivers first day on the job. Yet for some strange reason it turned out that the Szell gang who had Babe in their grip and were torturing him forgot to take an expensive watch that Babe was wearing! Babe pays the car fare by giving the cabbie the watch instead of cash, it turned out to be the cabbies lucky day.
  • luckyhb1327 December 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    Nonsensical drivel. Larry Olivier's performance is notable only for his melodramatic death. It's definitely true that Hoffman has improved as an actor. The plot is convoluted and nonsensical - only a buffoon would find it remotely intelligent. As with so many movies it relies on rather clichéd devices to ensure success: a car chase, bare breasts and guns. Oooh!

    The music is interesting - some bizarre electro-acoustic music, usually ruined by the acoustic element. Some of the cinematography is interesting with some creative shots that show some artistic bent. I agree with much of the comment that remarked "a b-movie with a actors" - it certainly appears to be somewhat reliant on the star-studded cast. Sadly most cinema fans are suckers for that.
  • tedg1 October 2006
    There are few things sadder than seeing a movie you once liked and falling away from it. Perhaps you outgrew the emotional strings it pulled. Maybe you learned how things worked in film and now you know what they are doing and decide you actually don't like it.

    Possibly, the world has moved and left the thing stranded on some lonely hillock of irrelevance. For me it may be all three.

    This truly was celebrated when it was new. Great actors — we were told — in a clash of intensity never seen before. Violence and pain as well.

    Watching this now, it seems unsuccessful in all dimensions, all but one: Schlesinger vision. This man really was adept at presenting things to us. Three scenes stand out in this regard.

    One is the famous chase scene near the Brooklyn Bridge. Another is the Bertolucciesque meeting and stabbing at the red stairs fountain. And finally and best for me — the last scene in the waterworks set. That's sheer pleasure for me every time I see it, and the obnoxious manner of the two actors doesn't bother me either. Its obvious that the scene and particularly the dialog was written by someone other than the clipper Goldsmith. Its all so satisfying, that set.

    A scene that should have been great but wasn't was when our Nazi blackmailing death dentist visits the Jewish-dominated gem district to inexplicably ascertain the prices of his thousands of diamonds. Its a completely offensive setup in how artificial is the excuse to present this irony. Lost Race He is at risk of being recognized, and he is. Its a remarkable scene even while it doesn't work because it is a real, complex street scene when such were rare. But it just doesn't work. We are only left with the realization that it was a clever idea and ambitiously filmed.

    Here's what doesn't work. The violence. The world here is presented as falling apart. New York is nothing but piles of garbage and people quick to explode. Paris is run by mobs. The contrast with the smooth Germanic order we'd have if things had gone the other way is implicit. But Parisians ARE quick to form mobs and get violent over the most petty grievances.

    Even the violence of the dental torture is pale compared to the televised videos of beheaded captives that are on the same screens we see this on. It just has no effect today, where when new it registered.

    Ditto with seeing the breasts of our love interest. Once it had cinematic power, those few scenes where were are shown that these two really are in love. Open to each other entirely, it seems.

    And again with the Nazi card. It used to convey real evil. Now everyone is called a Nazi, more than one even by our current president. And he by his foes. Ho hum.

    But the real thing that makes me send this to the trash is the acting styles of the two main guys. I never liked Olivier and consider his Hamlet (the filmed one) an abomination, a vulgar parody. His approach is one where am assumed bearing and confidence is supposed to carry the day. Never did. Perhaps on stage where there's a different bargain over the intimacy.

    And Hoffman. Mechanical. Sure, I know he has a technique to "be real" and he works at it, very hard we are told over and over. He works really, really hard, see? But his intensities are all at where an artificial man would have highs. He has none of the silent reality that conveys. In film we can see that, see that it isn't there. Never was.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Marathon Man (1976)

    A high stakes international cloak and dagger film along the lines of "Three Days of the Condor" released the year before. Here the ordinary citizen dragged into an unbelievable intrigue all around him is played by Dustin Hoffman, who also is training for a marathon. Hence the title.

    The plot has some twists we have come to almost expect in movies of this kind, to the point that we would miss them if they weren't here--the good guy who is actually a bad guy, the girl with loyalties unknown and suspicious (though the lead male doesn't suspect a thing at first), and like the "Condor" movie as well as the more recent "Bourne" movies, our hero is alone against all these odds. The problem, which is part of the joy of the film, is simply: who do you trust?

    No one.

    The bad guy you might not realize at first is played by Laurence Olivier, in another of his rabbit out of a hat great performances. When Olivier and Hoffman finally cross paths, and wits, it's like the meeting of two eras of Hollywood. The setting for the final showdown is pretty amazing in its own right. The music is really atmospheric and a little different, and

    All this said, the movie actually doesn't quite carry its velocity beyond the likely. It's fun and engaging without being gripping or dazzling or moving. Why? I think it's partly the writing, which is routine (both the plot and the dialog), and the direction, which is, well, routine. John Schlesinger is a very good director, and he has one gem in his crown, for sure, "Midnight Cowboy." But the effect here is closer to his later "The Falcon and the Snowman," where some great performances seem to get lost a little, just through lack of focus and pacing. And writing. A better movie with more aura is "Klute," shot in the same kinds of New York neighborhoods five years earlier.
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