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Lunch » Tags » Movies » Reviews » Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 movie) » User review

Dated but Still a Treasure

  • Jan 8, 2003
First of all, it is disappointing that there is nothing in the way of bonus features on this DVD. Yes, most of the stars are dead, but some commentary from Hector Elizondo, maybe? Or Jerry Stiller? Something...please!

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!

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July 22, 2011
In '74, $1M was the approximate equivalent of present-day $4M in a market where its purchasing power was far superior, and by logistical necessity, barely portable by four individuals! Futher, the sexist remarks herein were played for laughs; they just aren't especially funny.
More Taking of Pelham One Two Three... reviews
review by . July 22, 2011
After taking eighteen people hostage on a subway car, a group of four heavily-armed men in disguises hold New York City ransom for one million dollars. As anyone would expect, the focus of the story is not how the money is paid, but how the crooks plan to get away. These days, Taking of Pelham is best remembered as an influence on Reservoir Dogs - Tarantino copied the concept of color-coded names for his criminal characters. In retrospect, this is a well-plotted and ably directed crime drama, helmed …
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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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About this movie


Dog Day Afternoon. Annie Hall. Taxi Driver. In the pantheon of classic New York films, these three take pride of place. But there are, of course, others, some of which have fallen through the cracks over the years, criminally overlooked and unjustly relegated to commercial-riddled Saturday-afternoon TV broadcasts. Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is just such a picture. This taut 1974 thriller about four armed men who highjack a New York City subway train and hold it and its passengers for ransom may be hopelessly dated (it's loaded with ethnic stereotypes, impossibly wide neckties, and bad hairdos--and there are no explosions!), but that's part of the fun. A gruffly sardonic Walter Matthau heads a fine cast that includes Jerry Stiller, Hector Elizondo, Martin Balsam, and a perfectly villainous pre-Jaws Robert Shaw. Think you'll find a better film that depicts a nearly broke city led by an inept mayor forced to deal with armed terrorists? Fuhgeddaboutit! --Steve Landau
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Director: Joseph Sargent
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Release Date: 1974.10.2
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Peter Stone, John Godey
DVD Release Date: February 29, 2000
Runtime: 104 minutes
Studio: Palomar Pictures, Palladium Productions
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