Anyway, I always loved this movie as a kid (and had never seen it unedited either, so was surprised at the amount of cussing for its time). Bought the DVD and put it in, hoping it would still entertain. And it does!!!
The heist of hijacking the subway is a bit low-tech, and it's kinda funny to see all the good guys talking to each other through very unsophisticated equipment. Walter Matthau, as the Lt. Garber, the main good guy trying to thwart the hijackers, is constantly flipping switches while he talks to the hijackers, then turns them off to talk to the cops, then turns cops off to talk to Transit police, then off to talk to...well, you get the idea. But it's actually good that the movie is low tech. There are no pretenses of using sophisticated equipment (sophisticated for the '70s) that would now seem ridiculous or laughable. It's a fairly straightforward cat and mouse game, played well.
The script is well written. There are lots of sly moments of humor, especially early on, when Matthau is giving a tour of the subways to a group of Japenese that he thinks don't speak English. Well, after insulting them left and right, it is revealed that they do understand after all. There are lots of bits peppered throughout. But it's pretty tense stuff, since the hijackers only give the authorities ONE HOUR to come up with ONE MILLION (yep, shades of Dr. Evil in Austin Powers). Apparently, ONE MILLION was an absolutely outrageous ransom to demand!
The performances are solid. Matthau is fun to watch in a more "serious" role, where his usual mannerisms aren't really needed. It's not a great part, really, but he does it very well. Robert Shaw, one of my favorites, sort of set the standard for the calm, cool, collected hijacker type (think precursor to Alan Rickman in Die Hard). Martin Balsam was always good. And fun actors like Jerry Stiller, James Broderick and Kenneth McMillan have tiny parts and its fun to see them young.
The direction is taut. I'm not sure it's an edge of your seat thriller anymore (we're so jaded) but I have no doubt it was in its day. And it's still a superior thriller, in my view, and stands up quite well on its own merits. But its fun that it's almost a "period thriller" now, with cracks about women police and other sexist remarks which weren't played for humor at the time.
If you've never seen it, don't dismiss it because it's 30 years old. And if it's been a long time, check it out again. It holds up quite well!
What did you think of this review?