Monday, March 9, 2009

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Director: Joseph Sargent

Starring: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Jerry Stiller

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: We are going to kill one passenger a minute until New York City pays us 1 million dollars.

Plot: Four armed men hijack a New York City subway train and demand 1 million dollars - which must be delivered in 1 hour - for the train and the lives of the passengers held hostage. Lt. Zachary Garber of the New York City Transit Police must contend with City Hall red tape, the unrelenting demands of the hijackers, and the ever-ticking clock in his efforts to save the passengers and bring the hijackers to justice.

My Rating: 9/10

Would I watch it again? sooner than later

"Whadd'ya want?"

"I'm taking your train."

It's been way too long since the last time I saw this. Waaaaaay too long. It might sound like a lame premise that can't be pulled off but just look at the cast. If all I knew was that Shaw was in it, that'd be enough to get me to watch it.

Mr. Blue: It is 2:24, Lieutenant, you've got forty-nine minutes.

Lt. Garber: Be reasonable, will you? We're trying to cooperate with you but we can't do anything if you don't give us enough time to work with.
Mr. Blue: Forty-nine minutes.
Lt. Garber: We're dealing with City Hall, for God's sake, you know what a mess of red tape that is?
Mr. Blue: Forty-nine minutes.
Lt. Garber: Look, fella, we know how to tell time as well as you do, but we're not gonna get anywhere if all you do is repeat forty-nine minutes!
Mr. Blue: Forty-*eight* minutes.
Lt. Garber: Yeah, all right, we'll get back to you as soon as we can.
[after shutting off the mic]
Lt. Garber: Son of a bitch.

You've got four things that make this work extremely well.

1) The acting is top-notch, from the top to the bottom of the bottom. EVERY actor in this thing plays their part beautifully and realistically and the NYC accents are great.

2) The direction. Sargent's work behind the camera keeping all of this together is remarkable. The performances feel real and there's plenty of tension in spite of abundance of humor.

Lt. Garber: [after talking to Mr Blue on the radio] The guy who's talking's got a heavy English accent. He could be a fruitcake.

3) The score by David Shire. It's edgy. The doubling of bari sax and bass trombones play like a killing machine punching through walls. It's ballsy and you get a good idea of what you're going to get right from the start. Great score.

4) The balance of tension and humor. I've never read the book but I am curious as to how much humor is in it. There's quite a bit here but a lot of it is incidental humor. Many of the funny lines aren't meant to be but are because of where they're coming from. Like when an old man rants and starts spitting out obscenities or when the pressure is on and someone is throwing out heavy sarcasm. That kind of humor. I cannot think of another film that builds tension like this one while at the same time let it out so easily without "emptying the bag" so to speak.

Caz Dolowicz: You're a mental case. I'm gonna nail his pecker to the goddamned wall.
Asst.: Caz, take it easy, will ya?
Caz Dolowicz: Oh, come on. If I've gotta watch my language just because they let a few broads in, I'm going to quit. How the hell can you run a goddamn railroad without swearing?

The last 10 seconds of PELHAM are ABSOLUTELY FREAKIN' PRICELESS!!! It's one helluva finish!

There's a remake coming out very soon with Denzel Washington in the Matthau role and John Travolta in the Shaw role. I don't doubt Denzel but Travolta is no Shaw. The trailer below looks OK and there are some spots that look faithful to the original film. One big change seems to be that Travolta is acting alone and not with three others. It's too bad they didn't go with a real actor. Travolta is a better movie star than an actor. Maybe director Tony Scott was able to pull a good performance out of him. I guess we'll have to wait until June to find out but I won't be there. They certainly won't be able to improve on the original, that's for sure.

And as if you needed more ammo not to see the remake (or at least pay to see it), just look at the following poster art for the original and the remake. The new one is piss-poor and looks like it's going straight-to-DVD. The original just begs you to see it, doesn't it?

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