Thomas "Babe" Levy, whose brother Henry James "Doc" Levy is an oil business executive, is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Columbia University. He is also training as a marathon runner. Babe is paying homage to his deceased father, H.B. Levy, in pursuing the same studies as him, his father who committed suicide while being under investigation in the Communist witch hunts. Babe's work does not sit well with Doc who wants Babe to move on with his life. While at Columbia, Babe meets and begins to date Elsa Opel, a foreign exchange student also in History. While out for a walk in Central Park late one night, Babe and Elsa are mugged, the unusual aspect of it being that their attackers were men in suits. Babe will learn that the mugging was not a random attack after someone close to Babe is found murdered, the deceased who was not who he purported to be. From here, Babe is thrown into an international conspiracy concerning Nazi war criminal Christian Szell in hiding, and a large cache of ...Written by
During rehearsals, Hoffman famously objected to his character having a flashlight near him in the abduction scene. He just felt it was out of character. Schlesinger eventually managed to persuade him that it would make the scene more interesting cinematically. William Goldman who was present at the the time had the impression it was because Hoffman did not want to appear to be chicken. See more »
During the film, reference is made to Uruguay, Szell's post war refuge country. But at the end of the film, at Szell's brother's house, when Babe realises that Elsa is also employed by Szell, Babe asks her what she does for Szell. She answers that she smuggles diamonds from Paris to Paraguay. (instead of Uruguay) 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.
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The ending credits scroll with Babe's jogging route as a backdrop. See more »
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.
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