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Not for the squeamish!!
MartinHafer2 January 2016
"Marathon Man" is a film that divides folks into two groups--those who think it's a neat film about a vicious Nazi living in the modern world and those who think it's so graphic and so violent that they'd rather never watch it in the first place. I learned this when I tried watching it with my after a while she just left the room because she couldn't stand the dental scene near the end. I know many folks who felt the same way as my lovely wife...and many who liked the film. My advice is NOT to watch it if you have a phobia about dentists or don't want to see some blood! It's certainly NOT an easy film to watch.

The story is about a vicious Dr. Mengele-like Nazi who leaves his secure hiding place in South America to come to America in search of stolen diamonds. Along the way, there's some weird plot involving the US government and Dustin Hoffman. It's all a bit confusing but never dull--especially when an old Jewish survivor spots Szell on the streets!

The film is complex and fascinating. The end you'll either love or hate...but it never is dull.
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Diamonds are a Nazi's best friend
bkoganbing28 September 2014
Two generations of acting styles come together in Marathon Man. Dustin Hoffman plays a most reluctant hero a young pacifist graduate student at Columbia University who is a distance runner. He gets way over his head with an arch Nazi war criminal Laurence Olivier who did not drag out his patented Mittel-Europa accent. Instead he spoke a most precise English for the role, just like a foreigner having to learn the tongue.

His brother Roy Scheider is supposed to be in the oil business. Their father was a victim of the McCarthy Era blacklist who killed himself. Scheider actually works for a branch of the CIA, no doubt as Hoffman says the father would disapprove. I'm wondering how he got clearance.

A whole bunch of people from that section are dying and when Scheider dies Hoffman goes into action not knowing who to trust. But he's lucky, very lucky.

Olivier who has been living in South America in seclusion is forced to come to America to get his fortune in diamonds in a safety deposit vault. He's forced to do this after his brother is killed in a traffic accident right at the beginning of the film. Olivier's Dr. Szell is as terrifying a villain as his Richard III. It's what got him an Oscar nomination his only one in the Supporting Actor category.

Marathon Man has a lot of holes in the story, but the acting between Hoffman and Olivier is not to be missed.
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One of the best American thrillers of the 1970s
Leofwine_draca24 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Well-shot, well-made, quite brilliant; those were the thoughts running through my mind as I started watching this excellent '70s thriller, which sits neatly with the unconnected BOYS FROM BRAZIL. It's the kind of expert, thrill-packed movie that never lets up from the word go, utilising the cream of Hollywood talent and ability to create one of the all-time classics of the genre. As with the best thrillers, the plot is simple, Hitchcockian in nature: a graduate student, who enjoys running as a hobby, becomes caught up in a conspiracy involving a former Nazi concentration camp commander.

To say too much more would be to spoil it, but what evolves is a twist-packed film full of great action sequences: there are sweaty chases, nightmarish moments of claustrophobia, shoot-outs, one of the best hand-to-hand battles I've seen and, of course, a set-piece sequence involving dentistry tools and a drill that has gone down in history as one of the most fear-inducing and repulsive ever seen. One of the biggest surprises I had was seeing Roy Scheider as a tough, muscle-packed fighter whose bout against a Chinese assassin is quite simply brilliant. Usually Scheider plays these lean, slender leading men but not so here: now that's acting!

The main role is taken by a sympathetic Dustin Hoffman, required to do quite a lot of emoting in his part and never failing to do the job. The scene-stealing Laurence Olivier has one of the biggest parts of his later career, playing a thoroughly evil, cold and clinical ex-Nazi who you hope will get his just desserts by the time the credits roll. It works, because the film starts off feeling disjointed but gets gradually better and better as it goes on, as the plot elements fit together, as the cast list grows smaller and in the end it's just a showdown between two guys with everything to gain and everything to lose. Wonderful choreography, plenty of black humour, some unpleasant violence and a great supporting cast (including a suitably slimy William Devane) – what more could you want from a thriller? The answer is nothing, as this is one of the best of all time.
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not sure if it makes sense but I like it a lot
SnoopyStyle24 October 2015
In NYC, an old Nazi gets into an argument with an elderly Jew. They race through the streets and die in fiery car crashes. The Nazi is the brother of infamous war criminal Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier). The brother was a part of an international courier ring transporting stolen diamonds from Jews in WWII sending the proceeds back to Szell. Henry 'Doc' Levy (Roy Scheider) is a US secret agent for the Division. His brother Babe (Dustin Hoffman) is a history Ph.D. candidate. Their father committed suicide after the McCarthy communist hearing ruined his life. Babe falls for foreign student Elsa (Marthe Keller).

I honestly don't know if this movie makes sense. I don't know why they're moving diamonds around. Couldn't they sell them anywhere? I'm not sure what Roy Scheider is doing. The reason that the movie works is its disjointed confused method of storytelling early on. It fits this murky world of secrets. It's a compelling jigsaw puzzle. The three characters are played by some of the greats of their time. This is a John Schlesinger film. It has a Hitchcockian feel. It's got great paranoia.
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Good, for the Most Part
Hitchcoc30 November 2016
I'm the last person to complain about a movie not being what the book was. I buy that the two are different forms of media and hence can not be totally compared, but I do have one issue with this film. That is when the plot is changed in a way that the characterization takes a hit. Dustin Hoffmann plays a man named Babe who makes a discovery that puts him in danger. He is the "marathon man" in that he is a committed runner. He crosses paths with a surviving Nazi who is a character from hell. Their interaction includes the drilling out of Babe's teeth by this psychopath. Where it fall apart is in the final confrontation between these two men. I won't throw any spoilers in here. Suffice it to say that when a character grows through a period of suffering, the climactic scene should reflect this. Something goes awry. Check this out after reading the book.
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Kirpianuscus30 August 2016
at the first sigh, the genre of film about you say - I saw it - because its recipes is familiar to you. Nazi, secrets, corruption, the innocent victim, fists, revelations, the well known end. nothing original. but Marathon Man , being the part of this familiar definition, is different. for Dustin Hoffman who does more than a good job but impose in the perfect manner, the mark of his character in the memory of the viewer. for Laurence Olivier who gives a fascinating portrait of the old man with dark past and high ambition. and few scenes who are all virtues to be memorable.not the least, William Devane in a decent role, useful as bridge between different pieces of story. a film who remains a delight. again and again.
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A classic thriller that will leave your teeth chattering.....
mark.waltz17 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Dustin Hoffman is a put-upon New Yorker, a rather introverted young man interested in history whose brother (Roy Scheider) is involved in a case that will keep you in suspense for two hours as to the details of everything that happens. This is the story of one of the most vile men in history, a former Nazi (Laurence Olivier) now living in Uruguay who must come to New York to uncover the diamonds left to him by his late brother who was killed in a vile car accident while arguing with a Jewish man. This is a huge puzzle with many pieces and one of the most despicable villains in film history. Olivier's Szell is an urbane man, most romantic in many ways, but like Bela Lugosi's "Dracula", the Nazi's played by Conrad Veidt and Dr. Hannibal Lector in "Silence of the Lambs", do not let his sophistication and seemingly calm nature fool you.

The shot of Hoffman running around the reservoir in Central Park (once blocked by a wire fence before the current gates were put in) is truly memorable as are the block houses in which he passes on a daily basis but finally takes refuge in for the final confrontation with Olivier. In fact, there are some truly memorable New York scenes, from Central Park's Ramble to the old streets of the financial district, and finally the jewelry district where we see Olivier at his most officious. It is ironic that just two years later, he would play a Nazi hunter in the brilliant "The Boys From Brazil". This chilling thriller is a treat from start to finish, certainly not for the queasy, but not impossible to watch for those who have a dislike for dental drills. Just hearing Olivier repeating "Is It Safe?" will give the viewer chills, and is perhaps one of the greatest tag lines in movie history.

Beautifully filmed and well acted by supporting players William Devane and Marthe Keller (whose loyalties are never clear), "Marathon Man" is one of the best movies of the 1970's, extremely well written and perfectly directed by John Schleshinger.
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"Everything we do cuts both ways."
classicsoncall4 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
While watching this film for the first time, it's easy to get caught up in the drama and intrigue of the characters and their situations. When it's over and you start to think about how things played out, there's a lot that happened that defies credibility. For starters, there's the library encounter between Babe (Dustin Hoffman) and Elsa (Marthe Keller); what if he simply weren't interested? Or the way Szell (Laurence Olivier) didn't finish the job of killing Doc (Roy Scheider). Why just leave him there without his death a certainty?

So what you have to do I guess, is overlook those tenuous plot points and go with the flow of the story. When you do, it works as an effective thriller that produces a few nail biting moments. As someone who has his own personal nose mask for my trips to the dentist, (nitrous oxide a requirement), the dental scene was particularly cringe worthy. I have to admit however, even though it was probably stated a couple of dozen times, I'm not quite sure what "Is it safe?" was supposed to convey. It sure sounded like an important question, but I think my own reaction would have been the same as Babe's, I'd cover myself with an answer on both sides of the fence.

You know, I get a kick out of any movie that features a running scene, because unless you're a runner yourself, you probably don't realize that a non-athlete would never be able to keep any kind of pace for more than say, a city block. Now Hoffman's character was in training for a marathon, so he gets a pass. However someone like Janeway would never have been able to keep up with his quarry. At full tilt, your lungs would burn after only a few minutes; forcing yourself and you'd just collapse. Come to think of it, Hoffman's character didn't look like a convincing runner himself, but since it's called "Marathon Man", we'll have to go with it.

I guess it sounds like I'm being harsh on the picture but I actually enjoyed it for it's tension and suspense. But as I say, some things like Babe's ability to out-gun three professionals at the farm house was stretching things a bit. I liked the ending though. Can you imagine all those diamonds falling away after having made them your life's work? For me, that hurt more than pulling teeth.
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Is unplanned dentistry safe?
lee_eisenberg22 July 2005
The scene that everyone remembers is the dentistry scene, but "Marathon Man"'s plot actually centers on Nazi doctor Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier) looking for some diamonds, and marathon runner Thomas Babington "Babe" Levy (Dustin Hoffman) - whose brother Henry (Roy Scheider) is investigating Szell - accidentally gets drug into the plot.

As it is, you might have a little trouble following the plot. I mainly noticed that in this movie, Laurence Olivier plays a Nazi fugitive living in South America, and in "The Boys from Brazil" he plays a man hunting for a Nazi fugitive who lives in South America. "Marathon Man" is nothing special, but still worth seeing (although some people might feel a little unpleasant after the dentistry scene). John Schlesinger, who previously directed Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy", casts him as someone with the same kind of gritty look as Ratso Rizzo has.

Oh, and FYI, Szell says "Is it safe?" a total of nine times.
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Marathon Man
jboothmillard12 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
From Golden Globe nominated director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Pacific Heights), I remember seeing this film once, and of course I remembered the significant and most memorable scenes, but I had to see it again to appreciate it. Basically in New York City, the brother of infamous Nazi criminal Dr. Christian 'The White Angel' Szell (Golden Globe winning, and Oscar nominated Lord Sir Laurence Olivier) was killed in a car accident, and he held a valuable safe deposit box key. Thomas Babington 'Babe' Levy (BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated Dustin Hoffman) is the graduate medical student who also aspires to run a marathon so runs avidly, and soon after this accident was reported, his brother Henry David 'Doc' (Roy Scheider) shows up out of nowhere, unknown to his brother he is only posing as an oil tycoon, he is fact a spy. Working for the secret agency called "The Division", headed by director Peter Janeway (William Devane), Doc suspects the dead man's brother will show up in the city in order to get this key and retrieve the valuable contents of the safe deposit box. Babe starts a relationship with Elsa Opel (Golden Globe nominated Marthe Keller) who claims to be from Switzerland, Doc suspected her of being involved with Szell, but she is not, she just wants to marry and be a U.S. citizen. After being wounded in an encounter with Szell, Doc goes to Babe and dies in his arms, without saying anything, and he gets questioned by the police, and that is when he meets Janeway who reveals his brother was a spy. Then he is abducted by Szell and his subordinates, believing Doc may have said something to him about, and being a skilled dentist Szell tortures him with the repeating of the words "Is it safe?" (number 70 on 100 Years, 100 Quotes) and drilling into a healthy tooth. Babe is let go when they realise he obviously know anything about, and after escaping he invites a neighbour to rob his house in order to get clothes and a gun to end what is going on, and he starts with killing traitor double agent Janeway and Szell's men, who also killed Elsa. Szell meanwhile has the key to the safe deposit, and he is overjoyed to see it stashed with diamonds, but he cannot value them with most of the diamond shop owners being Jewish, some will recognise him from Auschwitz. After seemingly getting away with his case of diamonds, Szell is forced at gunpoint into the pump rooms of the reservoir, and rather than kill the sinister doctor he takes the diamonds and individually scatters them in the water below. In the end, after forced to swallow a diamond or two, Szell ends up killing himself with his own sleeve switch blade while falling down the stairs to retrieve the diamonds, and drowning as well, and Babe walks away, throwing his gun in the ocean. Also starring Fritz Weaver as Prof. Biesenthal, Richard Bright as Karl, The Man with the Golden Gun's Marc Lawrence as Erhard, Allen Joseph as Babe's Father, Tito Goya as Melendez, Ben Dova as Szell's Brother and Lou Gilbert as Rosenbaum. Hoffman is really good as the young man in the middle of a big conspiracy, and Scheider and Keller do well with his time on screen, but of course Olivier steals the show as the demented dentist doctor who's only goal is the find the diamonds, and his most evil moment is of course the dental torture scene, which still manages to disturb. I agree it takes a little while to really get stuck into what the main plot is, and there are little gaps in amongst, but once you get to grips with it, it is a mostly intense and interesting dark film, a most watchable thriller. It was nominated the BAFTA for Best Film Editing, and it was nominated the Golden Globes for Best Screenplay. Dustin Hoffman was number 24 on The 100 Greatest Movie Stars, Lord Sir Laurence Olivier was number 21 on The 50 Greatest British Actors, he was number 3 on Britain's Finest Actors, he was number 14 on 100 Years, 100 Stars - Men, and Hoffman was number 21, and Olivier number 4 on The World's Greatest Actor, Dr. Szell was number 34 on 100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains, the film was number 56 on The 100 Greatest Scary Moments, and it was number 50 on 100 Years, 100 Thrills. Very good!
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Tense and absorbing thriller
Woodyanders19 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Graduate student and aspiring marathon runner Thomas "Babe" Levy (an excellent and engaging performance by Dustin Hoffman) discovers that his wayward brother Henry (the always terrific Roy Scheider) works as some kind of government agent which in turn causes Thomas to get embroiled in a complex and sinister plot concerning a missing cache of diamonds that vicious Nazi war criminal Christian Szell (superbly played with chilling conviction by Laurence Olivier) wants to gain possession of.

Director John Schlesinger, working from gripping and intricate script by William Goldman, keeps the riveting story hurtling along at a constant pace, makes nice use of gritty'n'grungy New York City locations, takes time to develop the characters, grounds the arresting premise in a plausibly harsh urban reality, and ably builds plenty of nerve-jangling suspense, with the legendary "Is it safe?" dental torture set piece rating as a genuinely harrowing set piece. The sound acting from the top-drawer cast keeps this film humming: William Devane as the shifty and untrustworthy Janeway, Marthe Keller as foxy foreign exchange student Elsa, Richard Bright and Marc Lawrence as a pair of brutish thugs, Tito Goya as brash street punk Melendez, and Fritz Weaver as exacting history professor Biesenthal. Conrad L. Hall's glossy cinematography provides a pleasing polished look. Michael Small's shuddery score hits the spine-tingling spot. An expertly crafted nail-biter.
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Please Pass The Novocaine
ccthemovieman-128 October 2005
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.
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Good Action/Thriller
rmax30482321 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There's nothing much original in the plot, and there isn't much in the way of character development, but this is a first-rate thriller with some excellent performances and fine direction.

Schlesinger has put the film together in such a way that there isn't a dull moment. Even though some of the moments themselves might not make a heck of a lot of sense. Olivier's Szell has been living off his diamonds for years but has no idea what they are worth in today's market? But so what? The need to find that information takes Olivier to New York's diamond market where the stores and streets are full of Jews and two of them recognize Olivier for the monster he is. The scene involves an old lady being hit by a car, a throat slashing, and a hair-breadth escape by Olivier, not to mention a couple of amusing scenes in the shops themselves. The script has taken Olivier on an unnecessary and dangerous trip, and Schlesinger has made the absolute most out of the scene.

This happens repeatedly. A bomb is hidden inside a doll. Just before it blows up and kills a number of people, the clock inside the doll stops its loud ticking and the doll slowly opens its eyes. Why? I mean, what has the time bomb got to do with the eyeballs? Again, no matter. The incident adds to the tension and that's its point.

Then there is the famous torture scene, in which Dustin Hoffman is trapped in a chair and his teeth are finagled with by Olivier, who is playing a Nazi dentist. "Hmm. That's quite a cavity you have there. You should take better care of your teeth." And the whining buzz of the unseen drill when Olivier tests it. Man, if you dislike visits to the dentist, you'll find this scene excruciating. Schlesinger even has one of the Nazi thugs turn away. The scene didn't bother me that much because I am never afraid of the dentist unless I am in his office but I can still sympathize.

The directorial manipulation doesn't always work out the way we expect perhaps. Dustin Hoffman is shown running multiple times, with occasional quick inserts of Olympic runners like Jesse Owens. And when he takes off down deserted streets pursued on foot by a couple of shoe-clad heavies we half expect him to fly like Mercury, yet he's barely able to outlast William Devane.

Dustin Hoffman's performance is more than just good. When he's experiencing fear or anguish he can really make us feel it. And Olivier is superb, with his shining pate and go-anywhere accent. He even gives the sadistic Nazi some dignity. When Hoffman has him at gunpoint and is forcing him to eat his own diamonds, Olivier balks after managing to swallow one or two and says firmly, "No more. You'll have to shoot me." There are a couple of loose ends in the script. We hear more than once that Hoffman is unwilling to face facts. It sounds like a set up for some tragic flaw that will get him in trouble later. But it doesn't. He seems to face all the facts as he becomes aware of them.

And there is a good deal of attention paid to the father of Hoffman and Roy Scheider. Evidently the guy was caught up in the McCarthy witch hunt and killed himself for some reason. Hoffman may be writing his master's thesis on the incident -- it's not entirely clear. But it doesn't matter anyway because it has nothing to do with the plot.

I have to mention the location shooting and the photography because both are so well done. The isolated abandoned farmhouse towards the end, sitting atop a hill that is bare except for a few leafless wintry trees and the sad remnants of last summer's sunflowers, it all evokes Poe's misty mid-region of Weir.

I've kind of picked on this movie for its weaknesses but I don't want to give the impression that it's a failure because it is definitely not. It does precisely the job it sets out to do.
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A gritty '70s thriller
Tweekums4 March 2020
As this '70s thriller opens two elderly drivers get into an argument on a New York street; one is Jewish the other is a German who clearly has Nazi views. This leads to what would now be called 'road rage' and a crash that kills both men. It turns out the German is the brother of a presumed dead war criminal Christian Szell. This event will ultimately have a serious effect on Thomas Babington "Babe" Levy; a PhD student with no obvious connection to either man.

Babe is a post graduate student in New York where he meets, and gets involved with, Elsa Opel, who claims to be from Switzerland. One day as they walk through central park they are attacked by two unlikely muggers... middle aged men in suits. Meanwhile Babe's brother 'Doc', who Babe thinks is an oil executive, is in Paris working for a shadowy government agency that has been working with Szell. After his brother's death Szell is worried that his ill-gotten fortune in diamonds might not be safe... anybody he suspects could threaten that fortune is certainly in danger and that includes Babe.

This is a superior thriller which never treats its audience as idiots. For much of the film connections are far from obvious; things happen and we aren't told why. Then as the connections are exposed everything starts to make sense. Dustin Hoffman is impressive as Babe, the innocent caught up in events he doesn't understand; Roy Scheider is equally solid as "Doc" and Laurence Olivier is genuinely menacing as Dr Christian Szell... the dentist-torture scene is one that viewers will never forget. While the film isn't excessively violent there are a few shocking moments. These moments are justified to establish the dangers and nature of certain characters. The action is shot in a fairly matter-of-fact way which makes it feel more real than exciting. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to fans of gritty '70s thrillers.
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Exciting story about a young student and marathon runner, cruelly pursued by a brutal ex- Nazi
ma-cortes27 October 2008
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.
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Ghosts of the Holocaust on the streets of New York City...
moonspinner551 March 2008
The tagline for director John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" read simply "A Thriller"--and so it is, despite a heavy sag of masochistic weight in its midsection. Dustin Hoffman looks in great shape playing a Columbia grad 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. Schlesinger shows off a nasty side of himself, staging some dental torture scenes that are just about impossible to watch; even worse, not all of the pieces in William Goldman's adaptation of his bestseller fit accordingly. Both men eagerly press ahead so that the story gaps won't be so noticeable, and there's much zig-zagging across the continents leaving red herrings, street bombs, and character intricacies in the picture's wake. 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 mysterious German 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?). "Marathon Man" needed less torture scenes (which aren't really suspenseful as much as they are excruciating) and more clear-headed chess moves. It leaves a bushel of questions behind, though it is a handsome piece of work, well-cast and with an intrinsically satisfying finale. **1/2 from ****
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typical thriller of the seventies
dbdumonteil30 November 2006
Along with "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), this is John Schlesinger's most important work in a rather undistinguished filmography. Although they belong to two distinct genres, these two works have some common points: the same backdrop New York, the same main actor, Dustin Hoffman, here hires for another type of character. The 1969 film had seen him in the shoes of a little miserable Italian emigrant who suffered from TB. The second film gives him the role of a student, "Babe" haunted by the suicide of his father caused by McCarthysm. His thesis about the abuses of power in American political history seems less prominent to his eyes than the marathon for which he intensely trains. A solitary life which will be interrupted by an infernal chain of foreboding mishaps. They revolve around a conspiracy involving a former Nazi criminal, Szell (Laurence Olivier) nicknamed the "white devil of Auschwitz". Babe finds himself in the throes of darkness, wrestling with unforgiving, formidable evil forces whose motivations and goals are elusive to him.

"Marathon Man" is a representative film about a trend which developed in the seventies: the conspiracy cinema fueled by generalized suspicion and an increasing paranoia. Just check works such as "the Parallax View" (1974) by Alan J. Pakula or "Three Days of the Condor" (1975) by Sydney Pollack. From a fragmented, meandering master plan elaborated by William Goldman, John Schlesinger captures a discomforting climate of fear and paranoia which increase throughout Babe's struggle in the darkness. The director has also the aptitude to generate eerie feelings from sequences shrouded with a muted anxiety. Helped by a brutal editing, an invisible, impending threat hangs over the film and will sooner or later catch Babe up. To puzzle more the audience, Schlesinger muddies the waters and one of his cunning tricks is to delay as much as possible the clarification and the denouement of this apparently convoluted story to make this unsettling atmosphere last. For a major part of the film, the different parts of the puzzle remain separated but to piece them together and so to decipher the story, the viewer will have to be patient just like Babe. He's caught in a spiral of unnerving events which go beyond him and his immature behavior inconveniences the audience, perhaps more than Szell and his henchmen. Before having made the acquaintance of Elsa, Babe tried to flee from reality but is finally caught up by it. To blur the picture, Schlesinger and Goldman tap numerous possibilities of the suspense genre. Illusions and lies abound in the film under different forms: the image "Doc" gives to Babe, the moment when he sneaks into Babe's cramped flat to test his reactions, Babe's false release from Szell's clutches.

Schlesinger's directing is laced with effective suspenseful scenes but about the notorious torture sequence with dental surgery instruments, I have never found it really creepy and doesn't live up to its reputation. A character will hint at it in a droll sequence in "Serial Mom" (1994) by John Waters. On the other hand, the scene is somewhat intense when Olivier asks to Hoffman: "is it safe?". One of the best sequences of the film shows him in Madison Avenue where he is recognized by former prisoners and no one seems to care about the woman's shouts. This scene rings true. On the other hand, the film includes weaknesses to bridge the steps of the story like the moment when Babe asks his scoffing neighbors to pretend to burglarize his flat to give him his clothes and his gun. And while I'm on the possible drawbacks of the film, Schlesinger's directing doesn't exclude some easy effects. But they are of minor importance.

Even if he's credible as an immature, brazen student, Dustin Hoffman was a little too old for the role. To think that the same year, he acted a clear-sighted journalist, Carl Bernstein in Alan J. Pakula's compelling "All the President's Men". Beside him Laurence Olivier is brilliant as usual and the two secondary actors, Roy Scheider and Marthe Keller confer to their characters mysterious, opaque dimensions.

This is a legion suspenseful movie of the right bottle.
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not exactly "safe", as it's attained more of a cult-status than a full-blown mainstream success
Quinoa198413 September 2006
Marathon Man worked best for me seeing it really late at night, all the lights off, almost close to the twilight hours. It was here that the film was able to put forward its full power of thrills and chills, so to speak, but also with a very thick, icy comedy to some moments of it. It's also got Dustin Hoffman who, along with his turn in Straw Dogs, has rarely since gone to lengths in a thriller to really work hard for the material. This time he plays a guy who is maybe closer to himself- aside from all the running of course- but thrust into an incredible situation involving a mad German doctor (Laurence Olivier, in his most disturbing role to date, maybe his most memorable by contemporary standards), after his brother is killed. It's also a case of a movie being much more memorable for little moments than for the overall. A romantic side-bar between Hoffman and his female counterpart in the film isn't nearly as interesting as the villain dilemma. Little moments with Roy Scheider ring off well. But more than anything for me, aside from the obvious "is it safe?" scene (where torture got to be its most wrenching and harrowing as any until Reservoir Dogs in an American film), is the beginning of the film.

After we get the obligatory montage of Hoffman running, Schlesinger and writer William Goldman thrust the viewer into an almost completely absurd yet very real and horrific conflict between a German driver and a Jewish driver on a road in Manhattan, and its in equal turns darkly funny, cringe-worthy, and daring in being as exciting as it is shocking. Both drivers, with their rickety cars and rage amplified by the racism that gears up- leading them into their ends- don't seem like actors, but more like people Schlesinger picked up off the street. This even tops the big climax at the reservoir for me as being a wholly successful, near-perfect scene, and about as excellent as anything in Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy. It's maybe less than great due to some of it early on being a bit too conventional, but when the thrilling aspects of it do kick in, like seeing Hoffman really having to run for his life, it can hook a viewer in not expecting much. Marathon Man also marks as one of the rare successes of Robert Evans career as a producer.
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Consider that next dentist appointment cancelled!
Coventry13 May 2020
"Marathon Man" is definitely one of the most unclassifiable movies ever. Personally, I would never rank it among the greatest movies in history, because therefore the plot is too occupied with connecting seemingly random and overly complex loose ends together into an eventually rather trivial denouement. It is, however, undoubtedly one of the most effectively tense and suspenseful thrillers ever. I'd even daresay that "Marathon Man" is essential viewing for all aspiring filmmakers, to properly learn how to create atmosphere and build up tension. The "Is-it-safe?" torture-sequence in the dentist chair is legendary, and still as horrifying as ever, but there are numerous other and genuinely powerful suspense-highlights. The doll-bomb in Paris, for instance, as well as the sequences at the opera or with the bouncing football, are phenomenally spine-tingling. Director John Schlesinger further demonstrates his masterful skills during the nightly New York chase sequence, and especially during the astounding scene in which Nazi-butcher Szell strolls through the Jewish diamond quarter.

William Goldman adapted his own novel into a screenplay. Haven't read the novel, but I can safely assume it's a very thick and detailed book. You can tell by the multiple semi-processed sub plots that are cut short (like the mysterious circumstances around the suicide of Babe's father), the character drawings that are begging to go more profound, and the excessively elaborated set-ups for relatively banal events. The best example to illustrate the last point is the downright fantastic opening sequence, centering around a chaotic race between two old-timers (in their old-timers!) in the narrow streets of New York, and resulting in a deadly accident. Like with a lot of sequences in "Marathon Man", you are wondering where this is all going, but it's nevertheless a joy to behold. And of course, I can't finish the review without mentioning the sublime performances of Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, each showcasing their own styles and talents.
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Great Entertainment As A Thriller
sunwarrior134 December 2020
Dustin Hoffman together with Laurence Olivier stars in the 1976 suspense thriller,"Marathon Man". This film adapted from the novel of William tells the story of a graduate student who becomes surprisingly involved in a plot by a Nazi war criminal who intends to retrieve stolen diamonds from a safety deposit box.

It has been more than 40 years since the movie was shown. No question that we have seen great performance from both Hoffman and Olivier,who obtained an Oscar nomination as the antagonist. Added to that,we get to see great entertainment as the story unfolds despite the fact that plot holes abound in it.Director John Schlesinger managed to cover them up as the viewer gets to focused scene by scene especially with the protagonist involvement in each predicament that he goes through
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Lost Race
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.
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Classic Thriller
Theo Robertson5 February 2003
MARATHON MAN starts off with a blackly comical scene of a fatal car crash and just gets better . William Goldman is a legendary screenwriter and seeing his script play out it`s easy to see why . It`s not often we`re treated to a screenplay this intelligent anymore . But the best thing about MARATHON MAN is Laurence Olivier . Sir Larry is nowhere near regarded as highly as a film actor than he was as a stage actor but here he gives an unforgettable performance as a Nazi war criminal . It would have been very easy for Olivier to play the part as a parody but he`s unbelievably convincing as both a mass murderer and a doctor . This is one performance in which Olivier deserved an Oscar nod
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The cast is excellent.
Hey_Sweden16 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"Marathon Man" is good, solid entertainment, a gripping thriller that goes far on its star power, sense of intrigue, haunting subtext, and genuinely riveting chases. It's of course notorious for the instantly memorable "Is it safe?" torture sequence, but fortunately there is more to it than that. What helps is that its main character is a basically innocent type who, because of the actions of others, ends up in a situation where he's way over his head. The film likewise benefits from a truly commanding villain. Scripted by William Goldman from his novel, the plot is twisty and keeps one watching.

Dustin Hoffman stars as "Babe" Levy, a graduate student doing a thesis on tyranny throughout history. He's plunged into the world of international intrigue when his brother "Doc" (Roy Scheider) dies in his arms, and the people with whom Doc was doing business start terrorizing Babe. The main culprit is a former Nazi war criminal, Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), who has come out of hiding after many years.

Hoffman *is* believable every step of the way, and it's not too hard to root for him and be concerned for his welfare. Scheider is thoroughly engaging in his time on screen. Olivier is a wonderful bad guy. Marthe Keller is fine as the fellow student whom Babe encounters only for him to later learn that their meeting wasn't by chance. William Devane is perfect as Scheiders' cunning colleague. And the superb character actors Fritz Weaver, Richard Bright, and Marc Lawrence round out the main cast.

Director John Schlesinger keeps the action taut, and is aided by a talented crew including cinematographer Conrad Hall. Michael Small contributes a great score. The aforementioned torture scene with Hoffman and mad dentist Olivier may be the one that stays with most people after the film is over, but the later parts when Babe is very much running for his life do keep one glued to the screen. Only the conclusion fails to be very satisfying.

But, all in all, this is very absorbing and fun to watch.

Eight out of 10.
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Hoffman and Olivier at their peak...
Doylenf19 September 2002
Certain scenes in MARATHON MAN have the kind of suspense you find in the best Hitchcock films--but the plot heavy twists and turns make this an uneven exercise in the "edge of your seat" kind of thriller. Olivier makes a memorable ex-Nazi, his steely eyes intent on torture if he must in order to get information from Hoffman about some hidden diamonds. The dental scene is almost excruciating to watch.

This is heavy stuff, never relieved by much humor--but so well acted by Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, William Devane, Roy Scheider and Marthe Keller that it will have you shuddering from the intensity of some of the scenes. Given all of this agonizing suspense, the ending comes as a bit of a letdown.

Summing up: well crafted thriller that could have used a tighter, less complicated script and would have been even more effective if photographed in 1940s style of B&W to give it more of a film noir feeling. To put it simply, color is wasted on the sleazy atmosphere and settings of this claustrophobic suspenser.
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Well done but far too grim and violent
preppy-37 March 2008
Thomas 'Babe' Levy (Dustin Hoffman) gets unwittingly involved with a gang of vicious people...especially Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier). It seems his brother Henry 'Doc' (Roy Scheider) works for a secret agency and, not knowing it, targeted his brother for danger.

That synopsis may sound a little confused but then the movie is too! This movie has a lot of admirers and I can see why. It's grim, negative and strong. However, for me, this is far too depressing and the violence is really overdone. There's strangulation, stabbings and shootings all done with blood gushing out in every direction. There was even a graphic torture scene with Olivier using dental torture on Hoffman. Director John Schlesinger saw it with a preview audience and noticed quite a few people walking out during that section. He realized it was too strong and stopped the movie cold so he had it cut completely. Violence aside, the plot is confusing and there are plot holes galore. There's some truly terrible dialogue too. Also Marthe Keller and William Devane are terrible in small roles.

The only thing that makes this bearable are the acting and directing. Hoffman and Olivier are both just great in their roles and Scheider is strong in a small part. The directing by Schlesinger is great too (no surprise there). But the grimness, violence and plot holes really wore me down on this one. I can only give it a 6.

"Is it safe?"
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