Film / Marathon Man
"Is it safe?"

A 1976 political thriller film directed by John Schlesinger, based on the 1974 novel by William Goldman.

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:

  • The Alleged Car: Dr. Szell's brother has trouble getting his old car to move at a green light. This leads to road rage, which leads to his death, which leads to Dr. Szell coming to New York....
  • 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.
  • Book Ends: 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.
  • False Reassurance: Szell's To the Pain speech starts with him reassuring Babe that he won't be drilling into a cavity...because that's a dying nerve, and live, freshly cut nerves are infinitely more sensitive.
  • 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 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."