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: Szell is 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 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.
  • Infraction Distraction: Henry realises that his brother's new girlfriend Elsa Opel is lying about her past and accuses her of trying to find an American husband to get a green card. Turns out she's the daughter of the Big Bad, and spying on the brothers.
  • Improperly Paranoid: Both film and novel make it clear that Szell's paranoia is out of control and he expects thieves and treachery at every turn. Babe suffers a lot because this paranoia makes it impossible for him (and thus, his minions) to believe that Henry wasn't able to provide Babe with any information as he died, instead pitifully drowning in his own blood in Levy's living room and thus keep interrogating him for a possible Dying Clue.
  • Interrogated for Nothing: Babe gives every possible answer, several times, during his torture, but Szell is never satisfied.
  • Ironic Echo: "It's not safe."
  • I've Come Too Far: Janeway interrogates Babe aggressively to find out what he knows, even though Bebe knows nothing. By the time he realizes Babe was telling the truth, Bebe knows too much to be let go.
  • Jews Love to Argue: A grouchy Jewish-American motorist engages in road rage with Szell's brother, which resulted in their deaths.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Poor Doc
  • Mad Doctor: Szell. The man was a Mengele-type torturer back when he worked for the Nazis and age hasn't done his sanity any favors.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The gun Babe's father used to shoot himself.
  • Nazi Grandpa: Doctor Szell is kindly toward children who visit his dentist's office. He's less kindly to people who are in his care when he wants information from them.
  • Never Trust a Title: From the title, you might be expecting an inspirational sports film like Chariots of Fire . The marathon aspect barely factors into the movie, though, which is an espionage thriller from start to finish.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Szell is loosely based on Josef Mengele. Funny considering that Laurence Olivier played a Nazi Hunter determined to catch Mengele in The Boys from Brazil.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: Szell has a retractable blade up his sleeve.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Reveal that Janeway is The Mole and Babe's escape has failed.
  • Reality Ensues: Even if lucky enough to not die immediately, Doc still gets a sucking chest wound from Szell's retractable blade and spends his last moments with Babe gurgling out blood, so he cannot provide him with any important information. Much of the ensuing drama for Babe happens because his attempts to point this out are met with rampant paranoia.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I couldn't give a fuck about your Stab!"
  • Token Evil Teammate: Melendez, the burglar Babe lets ransack his place in exchange for helping him with Szell's men.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Babe at the end, managing to kill various enemy agents and gives Szell a pretty tortuous Karmic Death.
  • 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."