Thursday, 30 November 2017

Did "Marathon Man" put people off going to the dentist?

WARNING: while this scene doesn't include the most gruesome bits of dental torture from Marathon Man, viewers of a nervous disposition may find it upsetting:
It gets a lot worse. Nevertheless, rumour has it that the "Is it safe?" sequence had to be severely...

...pruned after some members of the test-screening audience in 1976 vomited or passed out while watching it. I only mention it now because I saw this tweet from Nick Cohen yesterday:

Last week, a 30-ish Aussie dental hygienist was giving my old gnashers some serious welly when, noticing my distress, she paused for a moment: "Let me know if it gets too painful," she said. "Don't worry - I'll tell you if you go full Marathon Man," I replied. "That's funny," she said, "you're the second patient to mention Marathon Man this week. Is it worth seeing?" I assured her it was. "So it isn't about running marathons?" I explained that it was a superbly exciting spy thriller featuring a scene where an old Nazi drills a hole right through the unanaesthetised tooth of a young American running enthusiast. Once seen, I said, never forgotten. I suggested she test my assertion by quietly asking her next 60+ patient, "Is it safe?" "I bet it put people off going to the dentist," she mused.

How, I wondered (without voicing the thought), could anyone in the dental profession not have seen Marathon Man? Aren't they made to sit down and watch it as part of their training at tooth school? Second - I would have thought Marathon Man would be mentioned by at least one patient every day. How could the fact that it had been mentioned twice in one week be notable? I can only assume that boringly predictable people like me save references to the film for dentists rather than hygienists.

Third, come to think of it, my interlocutor had a point (and I don't mean the one she was using to scrape away all that plaque) - the effect on dental visits around the time that the film was released must have been catastrophic. True, it wouldn't have mattered much to me, because I rather avoided dentists back then (I remember finally visiting one in my early twenties after an absence of at least five years - because my wisdom teeth were acting up -  only to be informed that, not only did all my wisdom teeth have to come out, but I needed eleven fillings). But a lot of sensible people who did visit the dentist on a regular basis back then must have been tempted to skip one or two check-ups after either seeing the film at a cinema, or a clip of Larry torturing Dustin on Barry Norman's Film '76. I've Googled the subject, but I can't find any reference to it. Today, Twitter and the Today Programme would be inundated by health nazis demanding that the film be banned at once, followed by a Newsnight panel blaming Donald Trump and claiming that the dental profession is institutionally racist.

One other dental observation: we were watching a BBC4 programme on the history of children's television the other night which featured a clip of a 1960s black and white person presenting a programme for deaf children. He was a pleasant, academic, sports-jacketed sort of fellow, probably in his early forties - but his teeth were appalling: huge, discoloured and sloping all over the place. The poor little tykes must have been terrified. And it's hard not become distracted, while watching old British technicolour films on a high definition TV set, by the actors' teeth, which are often heavily nicotine-stained and all the colours of the rainbow (well, brown and green, mainly). I'm not a fan of uniformly straight, over-whitened teeth - perfection is boring - but I don't think it's a bad idea to give nature a helping hand now and then.


  1. I may be lacking in imagination, but I can't see this clip putting off sensible people from going to the dentist at all.

    1. Watch the full sequence - that might do the trick:

  2. Sir Les Patterson12 December 2017 at 08:01

    Of course it won't put you off if you know the drill.

  3. I think Scott has got to the root of the problem. Perhaps we should put up a blue plaque to him.