Just the same on a downtown train
OK, let’s just get this out of the way: I love movies from the ’70s and in my opinion, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is the most underrated of the bunch. So, this recommendation is extremely biased. More so than usual.
As clever as the title is, I think it might be part of the reason why this film isn’t as well known as it should be. In the New York subway system, trains are labeled by the station they originate from and time they have left it. A “6 Train” (a subway train with 6 cars) that begins its run in The Villiage of Pelham (a suburb of Manhatten) at 1:23 in the afternoon is called “Pelham One Two Three”. Easy enough to understand, but not a very well known thing outside of New York City. As a hick kid growing up in Northern Ontario, who was about to watch this for the first time in the mid-’90s, I had no idea what the title meant.
But, what I did know is how Quinten Tarrentino lifted the idea of using colours for the code names used by his hitmen in Reservoir Dogs. Yep, Mr. Green, Mr. Black, and Mr. White are all here. Well, I actually didn’t know this until my buddy Frank told me. He was more into Tarrentino movies than I was. Anyway, I remember liking it back then, but it was after I had rewatched it sometime last year when I really began to sing its praises. It is a must-watch.
The film takes place in modern-day New York City when four men welding automatic weapons hijack a subway car with its 18 passengers. The hijackers demand $1 million in ransom be delivered to the train within one hour and a hostage will be killed for every minute that the money is late.
That is all I really want to say about the plot because there really isn’t much more to it. This movie relies heavily on execution instead of grand exposition. Great characters, pacing, and tone. It knows when to be funny and when to be serious. And it blends the two perfectly.
I love how “New York” characters are. When the men pull out their automatic weapons and announce how they have hijacked the car, the hostages laugh. Pfft! You can’t get away with that here! This is New York!
When word of the hijacking reaches the control room, no one can believe it at first. There is no chance a train could be hijacked. Who would want to? How are they going to get away? Someone had to have screwed up. Everyone is too good at their jobs for something like this to happen. Maybe this could happen “somewheres else”, but not New York!
I have to give a shout out to the cast. The main cast is all brilliant, (Matthau, Shaw, Balsam, Elizondo) but Jerry Stiller(RIP) and Dick O’Neil are great too. It is too bad they both remained mostly TV actors because they both played off of Matthau really well. Stiller as his friend and O’Neil is his frenemy. It shows you what good writing can do for a versatile actor.
And one more shout out goes to David Shire’s score. He mixed a traditional orchestra heavy score with a funky Quincy Jones style. It works so well!
In case anyone is wondering, I have not watched the 2009 remake with Denzel and Vinny Barbarino. Maybe I will someday but the ’74 flick left no room to improve. #MarsApproved