In New York, the brother of an infamous Nazi war criminal is killed in a head-on collision with an oil truck. Shortly thereafter, members of a covert United States government group called the Division begin being murdered one by one. Meanwhile, graduate student and marathon runner Thomas "Babe" Levy researches history as his father, who committed suicide after the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era ruined his reputation. When he sees his brother, one Division member, stabbed to death, it is revealed that Christian Szell, the White Angel of Auschwitz, is wrapping up loose ends to smuggle priceless diamonds from the United States. Written by
Anthony Hughes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On the last day of shooting, Laurence Olivier visited Dustin Hoffman at his home, bringing with him 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" as a gift. He then proceeded to read scenes from several of the plays, much to Hoffman's delight. The actor credits the story about his conflict with Olivier to general malice on the part of writer William Goldman, who didn't take kindly to the fact that Hoffman had persuaded director John Schlesinger to change the ending of Goldman's book. See more »
Dr. Szell is supposed to be living in Uruguay before going to New York. We see shots of what is supposed to be Uruguay which show people traveling in canoes through the jungle, but in Uruguay there is no jungle. See more »
[the salesman tries to sell a diamond to Szell]
Tell you what, I know an independent appraiser upstairs, and if he doesn't swear that I'm practically giving this thing away... well, I guess I'll have to find myself a new brother-in-law.
See more »
The end credits scroll with Babe's jogging route as a backdrop. See more »
"Safe" to say, this is one of the best thrillers of all time...
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? 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.
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