Title: Marathon Man (1976)
Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, William Devane, Martha Keller and Roy Scheider
The movie centres around Babe (Hoffman), a history student trying to emulate his father, who committed suicide when he was young. We also meet his brother Doc (Scheider), who has a far more exotic job than he has led Babe to believe. Doc has come into the possession of diamonds which are owned by an infamous Nazi named Christian Szell (Olivier). One night Doc arrives at Babe’s door mortally wounded and then dies at his feet. Suddenly Babe has become embroiled in a sinister game of cat and mouse involving Szell, the diamonds and Doc’s former associates. Also involved is Elsa (Keller), a fellow student and love interest for Babe, who has a secret past, which may come back to haunt her.
Dustin Hoffman is fabulous in his role and was very unlucky to miss out on a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his performance. He excels as the everyman who is suddenly thrust into a dangerous world that he doesn’t understand. Laurence Olivier is very memorable as the heartless dentist, who delights in gaining information in a sinister way. The scene where he tries to ‘extract’ information from Babe, while uttering the famous question “Is it safe?” never gets old. Olivier was Oscar nominated in a supporting role, the only nomination that the film received. Roy Scheider, who is only featured at the beginning of the film, gives quality support work and features in some of the best scenes. He should be recognisable to everyone who has seen Jaws or The French Connection. There are also fine turns from Martha Keller and William Devane, the latter having an unforgettable grin.
Marathon Man has some very entertaining scenes, including the opening road rage incident involving Szell’s brother, Doc’s hotel fight and the scene where Babe is attacked in his apartment. But none of them can eclipse the infamous ‘dental torture scene’, which might persuade you to take better care of your teeth. Poor Dustin.
The biggest negative about the film is its misleading title. Babe is a marathon runner in the movie and we see him training and exercising, but it not a sports movie in any sense. Those expecting a film about running might be surprised to find that it is actually a thriller featuring murder, deceit and Nazis. Nevertheless, anyone who takes the time to actually read up on the film will realise this quickly enough. Marathon Man is forty years old this year and contains some of the best acting of Hoffman and Olivier’s careers, which speaks volumes about their talents. Underrated, but well worth the effort.