Film / Marathon Man

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"Is it safe?"

A 1974 political thriller novel written by William Goldman, adapted into a 1976 film directed by John Schlesinger.

Dustin Hoffman plays Thomas "Babe" Levy, a history graduate student and aspiring marathon runner. Babe seeks to follow in the footsteps of his father, a historian who committed suicide after being unjustly targeted by Joseph McCarthy. He receives a visit from his brother Henry (Roy Scheider), who, unbeknownst to Babe, is a government agent assigned to manage the fugitive Nazi Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier). Babe soon becomes entangled in events, and must fight to save himself from Szell and his allies.

A very surrealistic sequel to the novel, Brothers, was published several years later.


Marathon Man provides examples of:

  • Almost Dead Guy: A partial example, in that he can't manage to tell Babe anything, but everyone assumes he has.
  • Bald of Evil: Guess.
  • Belated Happy Ending: In Brothers, it turns out Scylla is still alive. He gets to reunite with Babe... if only for a moment.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The car chase scene in the beginning, with brilliant insults in German and Yiddish being exchanged.
  • Bookends: In the first and last shots of Babe, he's running by the Central Park Reservoir.
  • Cassandra Truth: The old Jewish lady who recognizes Szell. Everybody in the area hearing her yell, "It's Szell!" thinks she's senile.
  • Catch Phrase: "Is it safe?" for Dr. Szell.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Guess what.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Dr. Szell famously exploits his knowledge of dentistry to do this to Babe.
  • Depraved Dentist: One of the most famous examples.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: One of Szell's henchmen turns his head away, terrified, when Szell tortures Babe with his dental instruments.
  • Fatal Flaw: Szell's greed and paranoia. When Babe throws his diamonds in the reservoir, he ends up tumbling down the stairs after them, eventually impaling himself.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Szell is downright fatherly with Babe...in between torture sessions.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Szell drills into Babe's teeth.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Film only; Szell falls down a staircase while chasing after the briefcase of diamonds and impales himself on his own blade.
  • Hope Spot: One of Szell's former victims catches up to him, only to meet his retractable blade.
  • Suddenly Sexuality: Toyed with. In the novel, there are early hints that Scylla is dating Janeway, and it later turns out that they are. No big deal is ever made of this. In the sequel Brothers, Scylla suddenly sleeps with a random woman, and only kisses a man while undercover during a spy mission.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Indeed it does.
  • This Is a Drill: The dental kind.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Melendez, the burglar Babe lets ransack his place in exchange for helping him with Szell's men.
  • To the Pain: "So, I'll just drill into a healthy tooth until I reach the pulp. That is unless, of course, you can tell me that it's safe."
    • "I'll let you keep as many as you can swallow."

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