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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974).

August 10, 2007

The Scoop:
One of the best, if underrated, action movies of the ’70s, “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” stars Walter Matthau playing against type to excellent effect as a shrewd New York subway cop who must outsmart a gang of thugs (led by the always terrifically villainous Robert Shaw) who hijack a train car full of passengers.

Director John Sargeant and screenwriter Peter Stone (working from John Godey’s novel) tell this gripping story with equal parts suspense and humor. Matthau and Shaw get plenty of great support from a cast that includes Martin Balsam, Hector, Elizondo, Dick O’Neil and Jerry Stiller. But more than that, the city of New York itself, in all its dysfunctional ’70s glory, becomes a central player in the drama, creating a vivid record of a specific time and place. Watch this one as much for the vibe of the city as for the story.

(And if the the hijackers’ colorful codenames sound familiar, it’s because they were later used by Quentin Tarantino in “Reservoir Dogs.”)

Best Bit:
That last ironic shot, and the look on Matthau’s face.

Side Note:
The New York Transit Authority was so paranoid about copycat crimes that they wouldn’t let the film be shot on location unless the studio purchased anti-hijacking insurance. It turned out not to be needed, but they neglected to take the same precautions later with the very-derivative “Money Train” (1995), which did spawn an imitative subway hijacking.

Companion Viewing:
“The French Connection” (1971).


Take a Look:
The trailer (dig that yellow tie on Matthau!):

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