You gotta see this: Marathon Man
You've just gotta go see this...
If I had to list a few of my least favourite things, exercise, Nazis and dentists would be so high on the list they would challenge the physics of the paper they were written on.
Marathon Man (1976) featured all three. And I loved it.
One of the marks of a good story teller is to take something boring or absolutely painful and turn it into something exciting and thrilling; John Schlesinger proved his directorial skills in this adaptation of William Goldman's Marathon Man for screen with a plethora of brilliant actors from the good old days of 1970's suspense films.
Dustin Hoffman, plays Babe, a historian graduate who has two ambitions in life, to run a marathon and to clear his father's name, after having committed suicide during the McCarthy era, by completing his dissertation on tyranny.
A liberal pacifist, Babe is completely unaware of the fact that his brother, Doc, played by Roy Scheider (the guy from Jaws), is actually a US secret agent, accustomed to a life of intrigue, mystery and the occasional life threatening situation.
I was gripped by the, "what on earth is going on?" momentum of the first hour of this film. Seriously, so much is going on that you think you might have to check your IQ before continuing.
An old German guy takes a package from a safety deposit box...
Cut to Babe training for a marathon...
Old German guy gets killed in a freak road rage "fail"...
Cut to Babe taking a shower...
Suddenly, you find yourself in Paris, where Doc is nearly killed not once, not twice, but three times, by a mysterious guy with a creepy eye, using killing methods involving baby dolls, soccer balls and a guitar string. Really creepy.
Cut to Babe hitting on a gorgeous, yet mysterious, Swiss student, played by Marthe Keller, who he just happened to meet in the library.
Bam! We're in South America, another old German guy, played by Lawrence Olivier, shaving his shiny white hair and embarking on an ominous journey back to America.
The story chops from Doc's suspense filled life to Babe's montage of young love to the mysterious bald German fellow until Doc appears in New York - and then you begin to have the a-ha moment, the, "now I get what's going on" epiphany you've been unconsciously hoping will come for the past 60 or so minutes.
The old bald German is none other than Nazi War Criminal, Christian Szell who, during the war, stripped Jewish prisoners of their wealth in exchange for their freedom.
Szell's brother, having died in the bizarre car chase in the beginning of the movie, has come to New York to procure an almighty fortune of diamonds which his brother had locked away in a safety deposit box.
Szell, paranoid that Doc was planning to steal his Nazi treasure, decides Babe must be in on the imaginary heist, has him captured and proceeds to torture him, horrifically with dentistry.
It is a complicated drama, but it kept me on the edge of my sofa and made me want to postpone my next trip to the dentist, indefinitely.
I should add here that the torture scene was brilliant. Not because I'm sadistically-challenged, but because it suggested more than it showed. None of this modern day Saw slash Hostel show-them-everything nonsense. It left a great deal to the imagination, which in a way made it worse. Especially, I think, because Dustin Hoffman did such a good job of portraying such a quiet, gentle but determined guy who really just found himself with the wrong brother at the wrong time.
The thing I also loved about this film, and most 70's films for that matter, is that most of the actors were completely normal looking. None of these beautiful twenty-something I-can-do-anything types trying to save the day - there were even ugly people in this film. It was wonderful.
There is some nudity and at least one "post sex" scene which you might want to close your eyes for, bad language which you might want to cover your ears for, and of course, a lot of blood. But to be honest, it doesn't hold a snuffed candle to a lot of the stuff that comes out these days as far as violence goes. The most disturbing part of the whole movie, apart from a tooth drilling, was seeing Dustin Hoffman's butt for way longer than I would have liked to, when he is trapped in his bathroom, about to be the prey of a nightmarish kidnapping.
I'll give this movie 7 out of 10 for its suspense and its ability to set my teeth on edge, and for the make-up they applied to Dustin Hoffman's teeth after his "appointment".
If I was a dentist on the other hand I would give this film 3 out of 10 for its contribution to my professions suicide rate!
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