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Old Hollywood met new in this thrilling adaption of William Goldman's novel starring Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman. This box office success found the innocent everyday man (perfectly named "Babe") crossing paths with an evil Nazi dentist.
1. They got their dream team.
From the beginning, the producers wanted Laurence Olivier, Dustin Hoffman, and director John Schlesinger for the project. Producer Robert Evans said, “On our first choice, we got everybody.” Schlesinger and Hoffman had previously worked together in Midnight Cowboy, which won three Academy Awards. Roy Scheider said, “To be working with people of that caliber was very exciting to me.”
2. Marta didn’t speak English.
While known in Sweden, actress Marthe Keller made her American screen debut with the role. However, when she tested for the part, she didn’t speak English. Rather, she memorized her audition material phonetically. She said, “Dustin Hoffman [on] the first day said, ‘She’s nice, but she’s shy.’” Little did he know at the time that it was purposeful.
3. Hoffman and Scheider finally got to work together.
Both had actually been cast in the off-Broadway play Sergeant Musgrave's Dance years earlier, but never worked together because Hoffman was fired. Despite the incident, Dustin went onto other projects, met Mike Nichols, and found breakout success with The Graduate. On the Marathon set, Hoffman and Scheider were happy to reunite. “It was an ironic experience and a good experience to suddenly be working with a guy that I didn’t have the opportunity to a few years before,” Hoffman said.
4. Hoffman was self-conscious about his age.
William Goldman’s novel, Hoffman’s character is in his 20s. Dustin recalled, “I was close to forty and I thought, ‘Well, if you think I can still get away with being in college, I would love to have one more shot.’” Both the producers and the screenwriter, however, felt Hoffman had the right energy for the role. Ironically, Hoffman also felt he was too old for The Graduate.
5. The ending was changed.
According to William Goldman, who wrote the novel and the screenplay, the main character’s arch is completed in him becoming like his tormentor and getting revenge. However, Hoffman objected to killing his idol Laurence Olivier on screen, and the producers agreed. Robert Town, screenwriter for Chinatown, was brought in to alter the ending. “I thought it was a stronger statement to make,” Dustin said.
6. Hoffman worked hard for the role.
He lost 15 pounds for part and ran before the camera started rolling to capture the out-of-breath nature for the part. His dedication even jeopardized his life to an extent. In one scene, his character is forcefully submerged into a filled bathtub. Hoffman told his co-stars to actually hold him to make it more realistic. After several takes though, he needed oxygen.
7. Scheider choreographed his fight scene.
Originally, the director wanted to do a very stylistic fight developed by martial artists. However, Scheider felt that the sequence was unrealistic for his character. So he and his sparring co-star developed the fight that was filmed instead. He said, “I felt we could give [the director] something different and really exciting, but something no one had seen before.” No doubles were used for the scene.