Friday, August 8, 2014

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

The Taking of Pelham One Two ThreeOf all the gritty, realistic police dramas of the 1970's, "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" stands out as the best of a very good lot. Released during the low-point year of NYC history in 1974, "Pelham" is argueably the most real-life look at New York and New Yorkers one can get without actually visiting the big town. The plot concerns the hijacking of an IRT subway train by a gang of four men, led by the coolheaded Robert Shaw (Jaws, Black Sunday). The late Walter Matthau shines as Lt. Zach Garber of the NY Transit Police who, over a two-way radio, has to deal with the terrorists unbelievable demands. The writing in this movie crackles with smart-mouthed NY urgency. The acting, photography, editing, and music MUST have all been created by native NYers. Even the 18 passengers who are taken hostage in the lead car of the #6 train look like they stepped off the street and into the IRT without missing a beat. You wanna hijack me just before rush hour? Go ahead, but I'm not ganna make it easy for you, punk! Many other NY movies (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, French Connection) have overshadowed this gem, but do yourself a favor and buy it, especially in the DVD version, which gives the viewer a panorama of a NYC that has faded into history.

The subway...lifeblood of New York. The largest mass transit system in the world, currently operating over 8,000 rail and subway cars, traveling on over two thousand miles of track, serving nearly eight million passengers daily. Seems like a logistical nightmare, keeping tabs on it all, but MTA (Metro Transit Authority) does, anticipating many problems before they arise. One thing they couldn't anticipate, what no one could have, is someone hijacking one of the trains. But it did happen, once (in movie world, at least).

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), directed by Joseph Sargent (Colossus: The Forbin Project, Jaws: The Revenge), presents a wonderfully talented cast including Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Hector Elizondo. Also making appearances are Jerry Stiller (Seinfeld), Dick O'Neill (Gamera), Kenneth McMillian (Dune), and Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond). The film involves the hijacking of a New York subway train by a group of men armed with semi-automatic weapons for the purpose of extorting one million dollars from the city, otherwise they begin executing passengers, one by one. `What the hell they expect for their lousy 35 cents? To live forever?!"

This is really an entertaining, tense and witty film that kept me interested up until the very end. Matthau really owns this film, appearing as harried yet cool-headed Lt. Zachary Garber, an officer working for the Metro Authority, and main negotiator with the hijackers, lead by the ruthless Mr. Blue, played by Robert Shaw (it's said Quentin Tarantino got the idea of using colors for the names of his characters in Reservoir Dogs (1992) from this film). Garber really has to play a juggling act, trying to keep the hostages alive, placating the hijackers, and keeping the trigger-happy cops from starting World War III down in the subway tunnels. Robert Shaw does an excellent job playing tactical minded Mr. Blue, basically Garber's counterpart, leader of the hijackers, meticulously planning the entire operation as if it were a military action (we later find out he's a British mercenary `between wars'). He must keep not only the hostages calm and in line, but also his men, especially the psychotic Mr. Gray, played by Hector Elizondo, who seems to suffer from an extremely itchy trigger finger. He's also kinda sleazy...(doesn't it seem like there's always one psychotic in the group? I guess criminals are a highly unstable bunch). As I said, Matthau owns this film, but it certainly doesn't hurt that he had so many talented and highly professional actors supporting him throughout the movie. If The Taking of Pelham One Two Three has the feel of a superior made-for-TV movie about it, that's because one look at Joseph Sargent's credits will show a vast amount of TV work, including shows like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and a ton of made-for-TV movies. He did venture into films a few times, most notably the 70's sci-fi film Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) and White Lighting (1973), to name a few, but always seemed to return to TV. He's also responsible for one of the worst movies ever made (in my opinion) in Jaws: The Revenge (1987), which probably put a serious hurting on any future film directing offers. As I said, Pelham does play like a TV movie (except for the brief but realistic use of profanity), but a really, really good one. Even the musical score for the film has a TV theme quality about it, but that of a top-notch theme, one that serves to enhance the overall product. The plot is tight, and moves along pretty quickly. The movie also has a real authentic flavor, especially all the smart alecky comments made throughout, the kind one would expect from New Yorkers. I loved the initial reactions to the news of the subway train being hijack, the incredulity accompanied by complete annoyance that someone would have the nerve to screw around with the New York Subway system, much less hijack it (the scene where the one of the men in charge with keeping the trains moving decides he's going to walk down the tracks and see what's going on for himself is priceless, at least until he finds out it's for real). The plot covers a lot of ground, focusing on not only the passengers and hijackers, but also the transit authority cop, the regular cops, right up to the politicians, forced to weigh the decision and consequences of paying the ransom money or not (they do, and the scenes involving the authorities racing to meet the hijacker's deadline is gripping, with slight dashes of humor...the police racing in their car, sirens blaring, Officer O'Keefe: "I always wanted to do this. Look, we're scaring the sh#t out of everybody.", Officer Miskowsky: "Yeah, including me.") The big question posed, and one that's focused on throughout is, even if the hijackers get the money, how are they going to get away with it? They're in a train, underground, surrounded by police, with no visible escape routes. Seems like a tricky proposition, but given Mr. Blue's talent for meticulously covering all the details, I'm sure he's got a plan (don't ask me, just watch the film).

The quality of the wide screen non-anamorphic print on this DVD is pretty good, but not as good as I would have liked to have seen. There's a lack of sharpness in the picture, and the colors a kind of dull. The audio is also pretty good, and the dialog is clear. MGM stints on the special features, as usual, providing a theatrical trailer and an informative 4-page booklet insert. Basically what you have here is an exceptional crime film set in New York, one that rises above most others and doesn't disappoint. Oh, and that warning you always hear about not touching the third rail, as it's full of juice (electricity), and will fry you like a side of bacon? You would do well to heed it, as it's not an urban legend, my friend...


Buy The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Now

If you're feeling nostalgic for gritty, rude, 1970's New York, then you should watch this movie. Every detail seems absolutely spot-on, from the location shots and flourescent-lit interiors, to the dialog and characters (check out the sniffley, vote-counting mayor and pragmatic deputy mayor.) Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw give terrific performances in the main roles (not to mention the redoubtable Martin Balsam) but it's the gallery of character actors and walk-on roles that give this film it's hyper-watchable texture and charm. Jerry Stiller and Tony Roberts are great, but there's a trainload (if you'll pardon the expression) that I can't even name, all of whom seem like they stepped right off the Manhattan sidewalk, circa 1974. The guy who monitors the subway display board and keeps asking "What the Hell's going on here?"----he was also in The Hot Rock, as the bank employee who get hypnotized. The time-limit of one hour that the train-jackers give before thay start shooting hostages provides much of the suspense---think of a mid-70's Speed with brains and nuance. The absurdly pulse-pounding score will leave you feeling manipulated and loving it. There's narry a wasted moment in this very economical yet densely detailed film, right down to the perfect, meaningful look Matthau gives at the end. The many humorous touches don't ever threaten to turn it into an outright comedy, since many of them center on how the city works. Call it a light-hearted suspense-thriller; it must have seemed like a shameless piece of urban exploitation when it came out, but now it looks like a masterful, pleasurable time capsule.

Read Best Reviews of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Here

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is a gritty heist and hijack caper. Set in year it was made (1974), TAKING is also a `perfect crime' movie. How do you hijack a subway train, demand a $1 million ransom, and get away safely with the loot? Robert Shaw, as the cool and efficient `Mr. Blue', seems capable enough. He certainly seems to have planned it out well. Opposing him, and sharing a number of radio-to-radio scenes, is subway security officer Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau).

Mr. Blue's demands are complicated and Garber is given an hour to meet them. The Mayor's approval is needed, and the viewer is dragged into a couple of unfunny comic relief scenes with a sick Mayor (Lee Wallace) agonizing whiningly over whether or not to meet the hijackers' demands.

British actor Robert Shaw is great as the ultra-smooth and unflappable hijacker. Matthau, more often in comedies, is a good match as the cop in the middle. Matthau's comedy talents are put to better use, as well, in an opening scene where he grudgingly leads a group of Tokyo transit officials on a tour of the facilities. Director Joseph Sargent, when not forcing the comedy, shows a sure editing hand when he contrasts the calm of the hijackers with the chaos surrounding the would-be hostage rescuers.

PELHAM is an enjoyable little crime thriller that goes relatively light on the gore and gunplay and relatively heavy on character and the tension imposed by a deadly deadline. Strongly recommended.

Want The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Discount?

P>It's the oldest videotape I have in my collection. .

The film has been released on DVD, and I am absolutely overjoyed, as it is one of my all-time favorites.

Theatrically released in 1974, The Taking Of Pelham 123 is about a group of four armed men (three of them played by the great actors-the late Robert Shaw, the late Martin Balsman and Hector Elizondo) whom hijack a New York City subway train on an otherwise uneventful afternoon, and hold 18 of its passengers hostage. The ransom: One Meeeeeeeellion dollars.

Ooops...that's another movie.

The ransom IS indeed one million dollars (Hey, it was shot in 1974) to be paid by the City Of New York. There are two catches.

Catch #1: The city has only one hour to pay up. For very minute that the city is late, the hijackers will execute one hostage. It is up to Lieutenant Zachary Garber (the late, legendary Walter Matthau) to stop, or at least outsmart them before they kill one. High drama, considering it takes the city FOREVER to do ANYTHING. I know...I live in New York.

Catch #2: The hijackers are underground. IF they get their do they plan on getting away?

Great performances all around from a great mix of big name actors, and fine character actors. People such as Jerry Stiller, Kenneth McMillan, Dick O'Neill, Julius Harris and Tony Roberts, who plays the Deputy Mayor. But the film belongs to Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. Matthau, in a departure from his usual comedic roles, displays a tough, yet somewhat humorous demeanor as he "matches wits" with Robert Shaw (whom one year later would play his most celebrated role as Quint in "Jaws"). Shaw's performance is properly understated...which serves his character well, as he is supposed to be cold and calculating.

It's a simple story, and simple to follow...yet The Taking Of Pelham 123 is a totally engrossing thriller. And unlike "Money Train" (Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes), Pelham is fairly accurate with details about the subway and how it works (including the dead man's feature-absolutely accurate). Money Train had me scratching my head in amazement with all the inaccuracies presented in the technical details about a subway train and how it works. Don't even get me started with that movie-but I digress. Pelham crackles with excitement and humor. And the ending is %$*&@ great! The musical score by David Shire will only enhance the drama on the screen. The main title theme alone is an overlooked crime drama classic. Urgent, yet kind of funky. Yes, this film is outdated...but don't let that stop you. This would definetly be one of my "desert island" movies. In a review here on, I read where someone said that this film "plays like an old friend".

I concur wholeheartedly.

By the way. There was an updated TV version of this movie starring Edward James Olmos and Lorraine Bracco. STAY AWAY FROM AT ALL COSTS!!!

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