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Movie review: Taking Of Pelham One Two Three

June 10, 2009

You may be thinking; “But DOF! Taking Of Pelham One Two Three hasn’t been released yet!”  Oh, but it has, back in 1974 and starring Walter Matthau as the cynical NYC transit cop Zachary Garber.  It’s a heist film about a group of criminals who hijack a subway car.

For me that was the original hook: how the heck do you hijack a subway car?  Where would you go?  The story makes it work, though, and it has a lot of humor seamlessly mixed in with the violence and one grisly scene.  It maintains dramatic tension, and respects the audience’s intelligence by not explaining everything in tiresome detail, allowing the viewer to make their own connections.  The final moment of humor is without dialog – a cough and a look.

The villains each have their own personalities – one is the mastermind of the heist, another a disaffected subway car engineer, and a crazy mercenary.  I couldn’t help being amused by the hijackers’ demand for “one million dollars”.  That was a lot of money back in 1974, but the phrase is forever linked to Doctor Evil, now.

Everyone has their own ideas about how to stop the hijacking.  Garber has the difficult task of navigating between the demands of the hijackers and the hotter heads in law enforcement who want to go in guns blazing into a hostage situation. He needs to be very tough to stay on course, not least to assert leadership with saving as many hostages as possible.

If your only exposure to Walter Matthau is Grumpy Old Men you should treat yourself to some of his dramatic movies.  He played a brilliant but frightening nuclear war strategist in Fail Safe (parodied, I think, in Doctor Strangelove of the same year).  In Kotch he played a grandfather at loose ends trying to help a pregnant teenager.  In the hard-to-find black comedy A New Leaf, a destitute trust-fund loser trying to marry a rich woman – and murder her.

I’ve seen the ads for the new movie, starring John Travolta, and it looks like it might be very good except for one thing: I hate knowing about the personal lives of actors.  I can’t look at Travolta anymore without seeing the private-jet-owning global-warming hypocrite Scientologist whacko. It just ruins the story for me.  When people start discussing actors’ lives, I try to steer clear. I’d rather not know anymore!  Maybe it’s a conditioned response from years of respecting Jimmy Stewart.

Which reminds me: if you’ve never seen Stewart in the 1965 Flight Of the Phoenix, it’s an awesome classic ‘guy’ movie.  You won’t be sorry.

What movie was I reviewing again?  Oh right – the original Taking Of Pelham One Two Three.  If you don’t mind seeing polyester suit jackets, check it out.


Categories: Movies, Reviews
  1. June 10, 2009 at 08:34 | #1

    Movie remakes only make me think that “Hollywood” is bankrupt of creative juice. I virtuallly never go to a movie theater, and actually watch very few films at home (pay per view).

    I thought the original Pelham film was pretty much a pot-boiler, and have no intention of going to see the new one, or ever watching it at home.

    Hope you are perking up.

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