Director John Schlesinger’s super-charged thriller is about Babe Babington (Dustin Hoffman), a Jewish Columbia University graduate student who, for reasons he cannot understand (his brother was a secret agent), is pursued and tormented by Szell (Laurence Olivier) – a surviving Nazi who is also a former dentist.
In fact, Olivier tortures Hoffman in two ways; a) by performing unnecessary cavity work and b) by being a better actor than him.
“Is it safe?” No, it bloody isn’t!
The film is paradoxical – At times generating a tension that is nearly unbearable and then providing moments of intense excitement.
It’s crammed with brutal killings, bone-chilling torture, and triple crosses. Yet it’s all wrapped in a murky and confusing plot that hardly makes much sense.
Still, the final showdown where Hoffman forces the old man to eat his diamonds before shooting him dead is a blinder.
The screenplay was written by William Goldman from his own best-selling novel, and Hoffman, Olivier, and the rest of the cast are in fine form.
Just one thing . . . Babington could have solved all of his problems in a second. Phone the police, Dustin!
James Wing Woo