What was second-rate in '74 is top of the (transit) line today
Jul 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 by Sargent at the top of his game well over a decade before the disastrous Jaws: The Revenge permanently relegated him to the TV fare that he cut his teeth on.
While Walter Matthau's top billing is appropriate for his dominant screen time, the real show here is delivered by Robert Shaw and Martin Balsam. It would be redundant to note that Shaw was in top form here - he was excellent in even the drivel that he participated in during the last few years of his life and career - and there's no ignoring his tense, imposing presence as a ruthless mercenary. The rest of the principal cast are serviceable, but the passengers are played horribly, as hammy as they are irritating. It's not easy to care about hostages when they're as obnoxious as these.
The action and drama of this movie are spot-on, while the comedy is hit-or-miss; for every laugh-out-loud line of dialogue, there's another that'll surely evoke a groan. But even at its silliest, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is absorbing, unpredictable and far more intriguing than the overblown, sanitized garbage that passes for crime dramas these days.
MGM's DVD edition of this film features fine (albeit unexceptional) audiovisual quality, a theatrical trailer and both dubbed dialogue and subtitles available in Spanish and French.
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 … more
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