February 26th, 2011: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Cast and Crew:  Joseph Sargent (Director); John Godney (Novel);  Peter Stone (Screenplay); Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, Dick O’Neill, Jerry Stiller, Doris Roberts, Tony Roberts, Julius Harris

What It’s About: Four men board a New York subway car and take the front car hostage and demand one million dollars in an hour or they will begin to execute the passengers.  Transit cop Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) is in the command center and becomes the center of the police response, and the main point of contact with the hijackers.  Can he figure out their plan before they kill any of the hostages?

Why Watch it Today?: The first subway in New York City, Alfred Ely Beach’s pneumatic demonstration project, was opened to the public for the first time today in 1870.  Although Beach’s system never went into full operation, its successor is front and center in today’s film.  The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is an imaginative crime thriller of the type no longer made today.  Oh, sure, Tony Scott remade it just two years ago, but just a glance at the casting-ice cold Robert Shaw replaced by John Travolta-and you can tell that it is a very different animal from the original, which operates on subtlety, attention to detail, and a huge cast of character actors.  The only real downside is that there are too many scenes emphasizing “old white guys are threatened by the changing social order of the early 1970s”.  These minor concerns aside, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a gripping, smart and often very funny thriller.

Where to Get ItYour local public library, iTunes, Netflix (rental only), or Amazon

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