“Is it safe?” Without a doubt, this would make my list of Top Five thriller movies. Scene after scene, line after line, it set new standards for the intelligent thriller. (In spite of a couple off-the-wall scenes: Why did the doll’s eyes open before it blew up, and where the hell did that soccer ball come from?) From the very first sequence, of the old Jew and the old Nazi acting out their road rage in the streets of Manhattan, it just keeps getting better and better. There is the mugging by two elderly men in suits, one of them with a gimpy leg! The amazing scene of George Szell, the Nazi dentist (and what a stroke of genius right there!) in the diamond district, totally surrounded by Jews. The deadly fight in the apartment in Paris, with the old man in the wheelchair across the street witnessing it but unable to do anything about it. The scene in the bathroom, with Babe in the tub, about as vulnerable as you can be, second only to the shower scene in Psycho for creepy tension. The slow motion escape, where Babe, in agonizing pain and almost dead on his feet, reaches down deep to find enough reserves to take one more step, then one more, then another, until he has taken enough steps to elude his pursuer. But the ones no one forgets are the two scenes of torture by dentistry. The first one is bad enough. (Several people got up and left at the showing I attended, unable to deal with such a primal phobia.) And just when you’ve started to breathe easily again, there he is back in the chair, to learn that if he thought he was hurting before, he ain’t seen nothing yet.
I could go on and on, not even mentioning any of the three or four major surprises that turn everything upside down. But I’ll stop here, and just comment on the perfect casting of Dustin Hoffman (Lee commented on how young he looks; he was 38!) (Al Pacino almost got the part), Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller, and most of all, Laurence Olivier as one of the screen’s most memorable bad men. He almost didn’t get it, because he had cancer so badly that he couldn’t be insured. But they found a way, he recovered, and lived another 13 years.