MGM // 1974 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // December 15th, 2011
"We are going to kill one passenger a minute until New York City pays us $1 Million."
"Now, then, ladies and gentlemen, do you see this gun? It fires 750 rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition per minute. In other words, if all of you simultaneously were to rush me, not a single one of you would get any closer than you are right now. I do hope I've made myself understood."
Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw, A Man For All Seasons), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam, The Delta Force), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo, Pretty Woman), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman, Silverado) are a group of heavily armed men. (Now you know where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for Reservoir Dogs). They want money and have a plan to get it: hijack a New York subway train and hold the people on the train hostage. Will the city pay? And, even if they do, how can the gang get away? Can transit chief Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau, Grumpy Old Men) stop Mr. Blue and company from killing the hostages?
Just to be clear, this is a review of the original 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, not the sorry 2009 remake that (in keeping with our age of brevity) couldn't even be bothered to spell out the numbers (The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3), starring Denzel Washington (as Garber) and John Travolta (as, technically, Mr. Blue).
The remake was an exercise of style over substance, introducing superfluous background for its two main characters. The original, however, is all about efficiency. In fact, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is so efficient that no character has more than the briefest of backgrounds. Further, for the villains, there is no motivation for their actions beyond the money. Similarly, the good guys want nothing more than to resolve the situation. There's no revenge, redemption, or romantic subplots. It's about a subway train, bad guys, good guys, hostages, and money. That's it. The almost singular focus makes for a very watchable film.
Besides its lack of affectations, the main strength of this film is the acting. Shaw, Balsam, and Elizondo each get to play to their own specific skill set. Shaw is cool, devious, and calculating. Balsam is a working class, somewhat decent, criminal. Elizondo is an amoral, loose cannon. On the other side, Matthau is at his sardonic best as Garber. There is also a good turn by Jerry Stiller (Zoolander) as a transit colleague of Garber's.
The film does have it weaknesses. For example, as expected, the bad guys plan eventually falls apart. However, it happens too rapidly. Given all the care Mr. Blue puts into his work, it doesn't ring true that everything could crash so quickly. Another flaw is the film's sole minor subplot, involving the mayor of New York, who is presented as gutless, unpopular, and indecisive.
Technically The Taking of Pelham One Two Three brings with it an acceptable aural and visual experience. The 2:35.1/1080p transfer is in relatively good shape, with imperfections such as soft colors, scratches and grain. However, the picture is still strong enough that the problems do not distract. The DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio gets the job done, though there's not much to it aside from the dialogue, sound effects, and some music.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Looking for a classic thrill ride? The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is the ticket. And given the choice between this and the forgettable remake, go with the original without hesitation.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R