mid-seventies, Dustin Hoffman was here, there and everywhere. He is almost
omni-present. Usually, though not always, movies benefitted from his presence.
My second off-List movie for 1976, “Marathon Man” is another Dustin Hoffman
movie we follow two tracks that seem to have nothing to do with each other. Track
1 is a cloak and dagger track with spies and agents, bombs and shady dealings.
It is very difficult to work out what happens here, but the scenes focus on Henry
“Doc” Levy (Roy Scheider, yup, the guy from “Jaws”!) and people with a heavy
German accent. Doc is clearly some sort of agent and things are not going great
for him. His contacts are dying around him and someone is trying to kill or at
least warn him too.
features Thomas “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman), a Ph.D history student working on
a project that should clear his father who was blacklisted in the McCarthy era.
A topic that is a bit of an obsession for Babe. He is also really into running
and is practicing for a marathon with a similar obsessive zeal. The combo makes
for a shabby and likely sweat-smelling living. Babe meets a nice girl at the
library, Elsa (Marthe Keller) and starts dating her.
reader may already have noticed that these two characters share a surname, but
that took me quite a while to work out and it was only half-way into the movie
when Doc pays Babe a visit that I realized they were brothers. It is also only
when Doc gets stabbed by the bad guys and stumbles back to Babe’s apartment to
die in his arms that the storylines merge. As it turns out there are old Nazi’es
involved, including a Nazi-dentist from Auschwitz (no shit, I thought that was
only my dentist), played by legendary Laurence Olivier, lots of diamonds and
renegade government agents. Babe is in this way over head and his teeth will
never be the same again.
thriller balances what it tells and does not tell its audience. Little enough
that the whole thing is mysterious, but enough that we do not get completely
lost. A part of me was thinking that I was left a bit too much in the dark here,
but the effect is that we share the same confusion as Babe feels and that is
okay. The problem is that Babe is a terrible listener. He asks by shouting and keep
shouting instead of listening for the answer and that is partly the reason he
is left in the dark. I cannot tell if this is part of Babe’s character or if it
is Dustin Hoffman’s particular way of acting, but it was grinding on me.
on the other hand, grows on me. At first, I only thought of him as the chief of
Amity Island, but he is very versatile and this role was very different, as
were his roles in “Klute” and “French Connection”. Juxtaposed with his brother
Babe, Doc could not be more different.
I have long
suspected that dentists were actually Nazi sadists and now I feel confirmed. I
just knew they took special pleasure out of tormenting my mouth and extorting
my money. I visited my dentist yesterday morning and just waited for her to ask:
“Is it safe?”. I would have talked, there and then.
is a decent thriller. Sure, there are loose ends, but that is okay, we need the
mystique. As these are mostly, the middle part is the best, the slow finding
out what this is about, whereas the conclusion dives into classic Hollywood
tropes. I am okay adding it as an off-List movie, but I can also see why it might
not earn a spot on the List. On the other hand, the list is definitely lacking
some Nazi dentists.