The Less Desirables Movie of the Week, brought to you by a/perture Cinema, the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables is Marathon Man (1976) starring Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, William Devane and Laurence Olivier.
Per IMDb: “A graduate history student is unwittingly caught in the middle of an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds, an exiled Nazi war criminal, and a rogue government agent.”
Hoffman plays Thomas “Babe” Levy, a history Ph.D. candidate. He is constantly running. Babe is researching the same field as his father, who committed suicide when he was a boy because the Communist witch hunts of the Joseph McCarthy era ruined his reputation. Henry (Scheider), is Babe’s brother and is known as “Doc.” Doc disguises himself as an oil company executive. However, he’s really a government agent. Doing what you ask? He’s part of an elaborate network of diamond couriers who transport diamonds that are stolen during World War II from well-to-do Jews looking to get out of Dodge, er… Germany. Said diamonds are then sold on black and legitimate markets. This is all for the secret benefit of fugitive Nazi war criminal Dr. Christian Szell (Olivier). Szell has a past. He was an evil dentist who tortured Jews as Hitler’s crony. His secret identity is hidden from the rest of the world and he’s managed to escape capture. He’s basically a fugitive in South America and is now living off the diamond sales. The money is over the top.
Szell has a shload of diamonds in a safe deposit box in New York City. His brother, Klaus, who is the initial courier dies in a random road rage accident, however Szell suspects its an inside job, one of his couriers. If anyone has the other key, then they’ll have a wealth of diamonds at their disposal. When Doc hears of the death of the brother, he knows that Szell will have to come to NYC to get the diamonds. He goes to meet him there. There’s an attempt on Doc’s life in Paris (where he’s working from) so he goes to NYC under the guise of a brotherly visit to Babe. Babe and his girlfriend, a Swiss girl named Elsa, are mugged and whilst Babe thinks it a random mugging, Doc knows it was a warning sent to him.
From this point, there’s a lot of backstabbing (or frontstabbing, if you will) and plot twists. I don’t want to give away the surprises. William Devane, whom fans of 24 and 24: Live Another Day will recognize as James Heller, puts in a great performance as Doc’s partner Janeway. Perpetual gangster/bad guy Marc Lawrence also puts in a solid showing.
The suspense of who’s coming after who or when’s the next thing going to happen is pretty high the whole film. It’s of course set in NYC in the 70s so I’m a fan of that. It shows what some people will go through or give up or put others through for greed. The film also has a dental torture scene that has been deemed one of the most frightening scenes in film in the book, Major Film Directors of the American and British Cinema by Gene D. Phillips. Dr. Szell is listed on the AFI‘s top villains in film of all time. The film is on the AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Thrills” list, as well. Sir Laurence Olivier playing a bald, former Nazi officer is a really impressive performance. I don’t know that it rivals his Shakespeare roles or that of Crassus from Spartacus but it’s really good. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and did win a Golden Globe for the role. His interaction with Hoffman is superb.
I found it thrilling and exciting. The cinematography, story, score and acting were top notch. It was dark and at one point, was very graphic. They had to edit out some of the violence to meet standards. I think this was a very fine film.
Rotten Tomatoes has it rated at 80% Fresh with an audience score of 82%. IMDb has it at 7.5 Stars out of 10. It was directed by John Schlessinger. I watched it on Netflix and am rating it 4 Stars. Have you seen it? What did you think of it? Drop me a line and let me know what you’d like to see or hear me review.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Is it safe?” – Christian Szell (Olivier)