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Marathon Man (1976)

A graduate history student is unwittingly caught in the middle of an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds, an exiled Nazi war criminal, and a rogue government agent.


John Schlesinger


William Goldman (screenplay), William Goldman (from: his novel)
4,511 ( 1,188)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Dustin Hoffman ... Thomas Babbington Levy aka Babe
Laurence Olivier ... Christian Szell
Roy Scheider ... Doc Levy
William Devane ... Peter Janeway
Marthe Keller ... Elsa Opel
Fritz Weaver ... Professor Biesenthal
Richard Bright ... Karl
Marc Lawrence ... Erhard
Allen Joseph ... Babe's Father
Tito Goya Tito Goya ... Melendez
Ben Dova Ben Dova ... Klaus - Szell's Brother
Lou Gilbert Lou Gilbert ... Rosenbaum
Jacques Marin ... LeClerc
James Wing Woo James Wing Woo ... Chen
Nicole Deslauriers Nicole Deslauriers ... Nicole


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 Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


One man's dangerous attempts to clear his father's name. See more »


Crime | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »





English | French | German | Spanish | Yiddish

Release Date:

8 October 1976 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Der Marathon-Mann See more »


Box Office


$6,500,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Robert Evans Company See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono | Stereo


Color (Metrocolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The interior of the water works at Central Park was constructed across two sound stages at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. See more »


Cameraman is reflected in the window of a passing car when Chen is standing at the pinball machine. See more »


Babe: Listen, I want you to rob my apartment.
Melendez: [laughs] Why?
Babe: There are some guys out there after me, I got a gun in my desk drawer, and I want you to get me some clothes.
Melendez: What's in there for me, man?
Babe: I got a TV set, I got a hi-fi, you can take it all. Do it.
Melendez: What's the catch?
Babe: The catch is it's dangerous. Please do it.
Melendez: That ain't the catch. It's the fun.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The ending credits scroll with Babe's jogging route as a backdrop. See more »


Referenced in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Revelations (1998) See more »


Dors, o cité oerverse
(from 'Hérodiade')
Music by Jules Massenet
Libretto by Paul Milliet (uncredited) and Henry Grémont (uncredited)
Sung by Joseph Rouleau, with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra)
Conducted by John Matheson
Courtesy of London and Decca Records
See more »

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User Reviews

Fascinating and chilling in equal measure, the film is an exercise of pure threat told from the perspective of someone caught up in the firing line.
9 February 2010 | by johnnyboyzSee all my reviews

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.

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