Marathon Man (1976) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Is it safe? 

Scoopy's comments in white

I have mixed feelings about this international thriller classic which I never saw before today. On the one hand, it has some tremendous positives:

1. Dustin Hoffman and Lord Larry Olivier? It doesn't get much better than that, and both were cast ideally.

2. Marthe Keller with her clothes off.

3. Some of the best individual scenes I've ever seen. The famous dental torture scene, the scene where Hoffman throws the diamonds into the waterworks (very reminiscent of the sewer scenes in The Third Man), the shot of Olivier's face shot from below - up through the diamonds, the scene with Hoffman in bed with a flashlight, the scene with Hoffman in the tub, some of the scenes with Roy Scheider in Paris, Devane's fake rescue. There is brilliant camera positioning, tension, spectacle, good performances, things that aren't what they appear to be, everything you'd want in an Cold War Thriller.

4. I very much liked the way they built up the mystery with Scheider's character. For the longest time, you think he's probably evil, but you don't know what the hell he's doing. Then you think he's OK. Then you don't know, even at the end, if he was just a simple thief all along.

5. When the film is over, you get the feeling that you've watched something substantial because the film manipulates your emotions in the ways it intends to, and seems significant, perhaps more significant than it really is.


Marthe Keller showed her breasts in a clearly-lit post-coital scene.
 On the other hand, thrillers are supposed to be plot-driven and I have to tell you, this made no sense at all in some scenes. It throws a double whammy at you - you can't figure out some scenes when they happen, then they still don't make any sense when you have all the explanations.
  • So why did those two guys in the park mug Hoffman and Keller again? As a warning to Scheider? Can't be, because then they would have done it when Hoffman was alone, to avoid blowing Keller's cover. Because Hoffman was with Keller when it happened, Scheider heard the story and immediately suspected Keller was somehow involved.
  • Why did they think Hoffman would hit on Keller in the library? He was a scholarly man who never hit on anyone, but she made it exceedingly difficult, and he ran after her for blocks?
  • What is the point of the bomb blast in the baby carriage? (Except that it was a cool scene) Nobody knew where Scheider would park, or even when he was coming. (He was three days late, as the script points out)
  • What is the mysterious soccer ball all about? Is there a missing scene?
  • Why did Devane go over to the dark side?
  • Was Scheider just a common thief, after all. That was implied by Olivier's explanation.
  • Why did the American intelligence guys protect Sell, a known major Nazi, in order to get his info on a bunch of small fish? If any of the Americans wanted a career boost and headline power, turning in Sell was the way to go.
  • Why did the death of Sell's brother change anything? Scheider already had received the key from him before the accident. That was the key that Scheider was carrying around, wasn't it? Or was it something else?
  • Why didn't the brother just take out the diamonds little by little and convert them to cash a bit at a time from 1946-1976. After all, he had the damned key. 
  • Worst of all, why did Devane give Hoffman the correct address of the bank? One second after Hoffman went out the door, Devane followed him, intending to kill him, so obviously he lied when he said "I'll give you Sell for your brother". But why didn't he also lie and say, "Sell is at a bank at 33rd and Lex" instead of giving Hoffman the correct address. C'mon, the guy was a trained spook. Obviously, Hoffman would have said OK, and left, just as he did with the real address, because he had no idea which one was real. 

Perhaps the novel explains all these things in depth, but the movie is confusing, and sometimes just plain wrong, as in the last item with Devane giving Hoffman the correct address. I would have cut a lot of scenes out of this film to make it more comprehensible and tighter.

Good performers, some great scenes, in search of better continuity and logic.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Marathon Man (1976) is a slick thriller adapted for the screen by William Goldman from his novel of the same name, and directed by John Schlesinger. The film stars Dustin Hoffman as a graduate student whose brother gets him involved with international intrigue concerning a Nazi war criminal. The criminal is played to perfection by Sir Laurence Olivier, who was in very poor health, and hadn't been working. As a matter of fact, they had a great deal of trouble getting him insured. He, of course, fooled everyone and lived several more years. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1. Good print.

  • contemporaneous "making of" featuring studio exec Bob Evans

  • new "look back" featurette

Marthe Keller plays Hoffman's love interest. Hoffman comments in a new retrospective made for the DVD that the two of them really got along well, and that if he hadn't been married at the time, they would have become a lot closer.

The most famous scene in the film is when Olivier, who is supposedly an ex-dentist, tortures Hoffman by drilling into a nerve in his front tooth.  Maltin was turned off by the amount of violence and only gave 2 1/2 stars, while praising performances by Hoffman and Olivier. In fact, given the anti-violence mood in 1976, one fighting scene was completely cut, and some audiences would go into the lobby to avoid the dental scene. The film has lots of plot twists, and great pace, and keeps the suspense going beginning to end. 

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 2.5/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Seven articles on file, all reviews positive.

  • Olivier was nominated as Best Supporting Actor

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.3, 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoopy says "I don't know exactly. This film is somewhere from a C- to a B-. It is a below-average thriller, because so many scenes really make no sense, either on their own or in context. It is above average as a general entertainment, with good acting, good visuals, some tremendous individual scenes, and a mysterious ambiance." Tuna grades it a B-

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