Friday 8 April 2022

Marathon Man (1976)



In the 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 film.

In this 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.

Track 2 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.

The sharp 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.

A good 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.

Roy Scheider, 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.

“Marathon Man” 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.



  1. I thought the best part was Laurence Olivier.

  2. I think it's a really solid thriller. Since you're in the 70s, I'd recommend Three Days of the Condor as well.

    1. Indeed. I reviewed Three Days of the Condor as a 75 off-List movie and was very pleased with it.

    2. I must've missed that, or just forgotten.

      Man, getting old sucks!

    3. No problem, there is no obligation to follow everything happening on the various blogs. I have to zone out from time to time.
      Three Days of the Condor was a movie I remembered from ages ago and knew I had to review.