Marathon Man


2h 5m 1976
Marathon Man

Brief Synopsis

A covert government group uncovers a criminal plot run by Nazi War criminals.

Film Details

Also Known As
Maratonmannen
MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Suspense/Mystery
Political
Spy
Thriller
War
Release Date
1976

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 5m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

Babe Levy is a Columbia University graduate student and avid runner who is haunted by the memory of his father's suicide, brought about by the McCarthy witchhunts. Babe's brother, Doc, an American secret agent, helps sneak Szell, an old Nazi, into the US from South America. Szell's brother, who has watched over a fortune in jewels taken from Jewish concentration camp victims, has died, and Szell has come to New York to collect the booty. After killing Doc, Szell uses the tools of his dentist's trade to torture Babe for information the student doesn't possess. Putting his marathon training to use, Babe escapes Szell, and eventually the pursuer becomes the pursued.

Film Details

Also Known As
Maratonmannen
MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Suspense/Mystery
Political
Spy
Thriller
War
Release Date
1976

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 5m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Supporting Actor

1976
Laurence Olivier

Articles

Marathon Man


One of the '70's most memorable contributions to the suspense genre, Marathon Man (1976) is notable on many levels. The film brought together two of the leading exponents of screen acting for their respective generations--Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier--to combine their talents for a taut and solid thriller. Directed at a breathless clip by British veteran John Schlesinger, the film boasted some of the most harrowing sequences committed to celluloid at its time, and they have lost none of their power over the subsequent years.

William Goldman's riveting screen adaptation of his own novel introduces us to Thomas "Babe" Levy (Hoffman), a driven Columbia grad student whose every waking moment seems spent finding some way to exorcise the demons of his past. When not steeped in pursuit of the dissertation that he believes will vindicate the memory of his father, a professor pushed to suicide after being targeted in the McCarthy witch hunts, he's donning his track gear and pushing himself to exhaustion in preparation for the Olympic marathon.

Babe's existence is irrevocably changed when he's visited by his older brother Doc (Roy Scheider) who happens to be in town on business. As it happens, Doc is a U.S. intelligence agent, and one of his duties has been to serve as a go-between for the fugitive Nazi war criminal Christian Szell (Olivier), who has traded certain secrets for an undisturbed life of seclusion in South America. Szell had been prodded to leave his safe house by the death of his NYC-based brother, intending to find his sibling's fabulous cache of diamonds taken from Holocaust victims. Doc locates and confronts Szell upon his arrival; believing the agent is after the gems, the aged Nazi mortally stabs him. Doc staggers back to Babe's apartment and dies in his arms.

This, unfortunately, only serves to lead Szell's thugs to Babe, who kidnap him and take him to an abandoned warehouse. In the film's chilling signature sequence, Szell subjects the immobilized Babe to his particular gift for torture--dental surgery with ancient tools and no anesthetic--with the intent of extracting information that the terrorized student does not possess. After Szell's sadistic cruelty ("Is it safe?") produces unconsciousness and nothing more, the demented dentist turns to other means of locating the hidden treasure. At the earliest opportunity, Babe breaks from his captors, his training allowing him to outdistance their pursuit. Returning home, the onetime pacifist breaks out the very gun his father used to end his life, and sets out for a final confrontation with Szell.

Much has been made of the on-set tensions between the two primary players. Olivier was 69 when he signed on to the project, and the great lion of the stage's health was already in serious decline; everyone, including Olivier, was surprised when he cleared the studio's insurance exam. Approach to craftwork became a battlefront of sorts for the classically-trained Olivier and the Method actor Hoffman. After Hoffman announced that he had been awake for two straight days to get into the part, Olivier's response was "My dear boy, you look awful. Why don't you try acting?"

Later in the course of rehearsal, Hoffman and Olivier were working on their climactic confrontation, and the younger actor insisted upon trying improvisation. "After a glance at Schlesinger as referee," Donald Spoto wrote in Laurence Olivier: A Biography, "Olivier had to muster all his professionalism to agree to something he neither believed in nor felt up to." The performers began walking around the rehearsal hall, with the only marked results for Olivier being a painful swelling in his ankles. "'Part of it,' says Goldman, who watched helpless, 'was Hoffman's need to put himself on at least an equal footing with this sick old man.'...The spectacle pained everyone in the room and quickly became a talking-point in the industry," Spoto recounted.

While Marathon Man opened to strong reviews and brisk receipts, it was by and large ignored by the Academy at Oscar® time, with only a Supporting Actor Nomination for Olivier's remarkable effort. As recounted in Gene D. Philips' John Schlesinger, the filmmaker observed at the time, "Judging from the Oscar® nominations we are obviously not popular...I wonder if Hollywood will ever forgive me for (adapting Nathanael West's biting industry indictment) The Day of the Locust (1975)."

Producers: Sidney Beckerman and Robert Evans
Director: John Schlesinger
Screenplay: William Goldman (also the play)
Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall
Art Direction: Jack De Shields
Music: Michael Small
Film Editing: Jim Clark
Cast: Thomas Levy (Dustin Hoffman), Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), Henry Levy (Roy Scheider), Peter Janeway (William Devane), Elsa Opel (Marthe Keller), Professor Biesenthal (Fritz Weaver).
C-126m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg
Marathon Man

Marathon Man

One of the '70's most memorable contributions to the suspense genre, Marathon Man (1976) is notable on many levels. The film brought together two of the leading exponents of screen acting for their respective generations--Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier--to combine their talents for a taut and solid thriller. Directed at a breathless clip by British veteran John Schlesinger, the film boasted some of the most harrowing sequences committed to celluloid at its time, and they have lost none of their power over the subsequent years. William Goldman's riveting screen adaptation of his own novel introduces us to Thomas "Babe" Levy (Hoffman), a driven Columbia grad student whose every waking moment seems spent finding some way to exorcise the demons of his past. When not steeped in pursuit of the dissertation that he believes will vindicate the memory of his father, a professor pushed to suicide after being targeted in the McCarthy witch hunts, he's donning his track gear and pushing himself to exhaustion in preparation for the Olympic marathon. Babe's existence is irrevocably changed when he's visited by his older brother Doc (Roy Scheider) who happens to be in town on business. As it happens, Doc is a U.S. intelligence agent, and one of his duties has been to serve as a go-between for the fugitive Nazi war criminal Christian Szell (Olivier), who has traded certain secrets for an undisturbed life of seclusion in South America. Szell had been prodded to leave his safe house by the death of his NYC-based brother, intending to find his sibling's fabulous cache of diamonds taken from Holocaust victims. Doc locates and confronts Szell upon his arrival; believing the agent is after the gems, the aged Nazi mortally stabs him. Doc staggers back to Babe's apartment and dies in his arms. This, unfortunately, only serves to lead Szell's thugs to Babe, who kidnap him and take him to an abandoned warehouse. In the film's chilling signature sequence, Szell subjects the immobilized Babe to his particular gift for torture--dental surgery with ancient tools and no anesthetic--with the intent of extracting information that the terrorized student does not possess. After Szell's sadistic cruelty ("Is it safe?") produces unconsciousness and nothing more, the demented dentist turns to other means of locating the hidden treasure. At the earliest opportunity, Babe breaks from his captors, his training allowing him to outdistance their pursuit. Returning home, the onetime pacifist breaks out the very gun his father used to end his life, and sets out for a final confrontation with Szell. Much has been made of the on-set tensions between the two primary players. Olivier was 69 when he signed on to the project, and the great lion of the stage's health was already in serious decline; everyone, including Olivier, was surprised when he cleared the studio's insurance exam. Approach to craftwork became a battlefront of sorts for the classically-trained Olivier and the Method actor Hoffman. After Hoffman announced that he had been awake for two straight days to get into the part, Olivier's response was "My dear boy, you look awful. Why don't you try acting?" Later in the course of rehearsal, Hoffman and Olivier were working on their climactic confrontation, and the younger actor insisted upon trying improvisation. "After a glance at Schlesinger as referee," Donald Spoto wrote in Laurence Olivier: A Biography, "Olivier had to muster all his professionalism to agree to something he neither believed in nor felt up to." The performers began walking around the rehearsal hall, with the only marked results for Olivier being a painful swelling in his ankles. "'Part of it,' says Goldman, who watched helpless, 'was Hoffman's need to put himself on at least an equal footing with this sick old man.'...The spectacle pained everyone in the room and quickly became a talking-point in the industry," Spoto recounted. While Marathon Man opened to strong reviews and brisk receipts, it was by and large ignored by the Academy at Oscar® time, with only a Supporting Actor Nomination for Olivier's remarkable effort. As recounted in Gene D. Philips' John Schlesinger, the filmmaker observed at the time, "Judging from the Oscar® nominations we are obviously not popular...I wonder if Hollywood will ever forgive me for (adapting Nathanael West's biting industry indictment) The Day of the Locust (1975)." Producers: Sidney Beckerman and Robert Evans Director: John Schlesinger Screenplay: William Goldman (also the play) Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall Art Direction: Jack De Shields Music: Michael Small Film Editing: Jim Clark Cast: Thomas Levy (Dustin Hoffman), Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), Henry Levy (Roy Scheider), Peter Janeway (William Devane), Elsa Opel (Marthe Keller), Professor Biesenthal (Fritz Weaver). C-126m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Jay S. Steinberg

Quotes

Is it safe?... Is it safe?
- Christian Szell
You're talking to me?
- Babe
Is is safe?
- Christian Szell
Is what safe?
- Babe
Is it safe?
- Christian Szell
Listen, I want you to rob my apartment.
- Babe
Why?
- Melendez
There are some guys out there after me, I got a gun in my desk drawer, and I want you to get me some clothes.
- Babe
What's in there for me, man?
- Melendez
I got a TV set, I got a hi-fi, you can take it all. Do it.
- Babe
Well, what are you going to do now, shoot me?
- Christian Szell
No, I don't think so.
- Babe
Then you're going to take these
- Christian Szell
from me? If I could say a word about that...
- Christian Szell
No, you can keep them. You can keep as many as you can swallow.
- Babe
Listen, why don't we begin with what happened tonight, hmm? Perhaps you could... you know, give me some of the details.
- Janeway
I was here, Doc... died, you came.
- Babe
That's it?
- Janeway
I'm a demon for details.
- Babe
My name's Peter Janeway. But you can call me, Janey, all of my friends do.
- Janeway
I'm not your friend.
- Babe
You're weak. You're father was weak in his way. You're brother in his and now you in yours.
- Christian Szell

Trivia

Dustin Hoffman (being a "method actor") stayed up all night to play a character who has stayed up all night. Arriving on the set, Laurence Olivier asked him why he looked they way he did. Hoffman told him, to which Olivier replied in jest: "Why not try acting? It's much easier."

The torture scene was shortened after preview audiences were taken sick.

Dr. Szell is based on the historical Doctor Josef Menegele, head SS Doctor of Auschwitz, who was living a fugitive's life in South America when the movie was produced.

Although the film takes place in New York, at least two sequences were filmed in Los Angeles, the scene where Roy Scheider meets Laurence Olivier was filmed in front of the red steps statue in downtown Los Angeles in the Arco Plaza and the library scene where Dustin Hoffman meets Marthe Keller was filmed at the Doheny Library on the University of Southern California campus. Ironically, Hoffman filmed scenes on the same campus ten years earlier in the landmark Graduate, The (1967).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States Fall October 8, 1976

Released in United States March 1979

Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 - February 4, 1998.

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 - February 4, 1998.)

Released in United States March 1979 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The 50-Hour Mighty Movie Marathon: Mystery and Suspense) March 14-30, 1979.)

Released in United States Fall October 8, 1976