The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Toronto Film Society presented The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1932) on Monday, August 17, 2015 in a double bill with Me and My Gal as part of the Season 68 Monday Summer Series, Programme 6.

Director: Joseph Sargent.  Writers: John Godey, Peter Stone.

Cast: Walter Matthau (Lt. Zachary Garber), Robert Shaw (Bernard Ryder), Martin Balsam (Harold Longman), Hector Elizondo (Giuseppe Benvenuto), Earl Hindman (George Steever), James Broderick (Denny Doyle), Dick O’Neill (Frank Correll), Lee Wallace (Al, the Mayor of New York City), Tom Pedi (Caz Dolowicz), Beatrice Winde (Mrs. Jenkins), Jerry Stiller (Police Lt. Rico Patrone).

Ruthless Shaw and three cohorts hijack N.Y.C. subway train, hold passengers for one million in cash—to be delivered in one hour! Outstanding thriller, laced with cynical comedy, bursts with heart-stopping excitement, terrific performances, and first-rate editing. Crackerjack Peter Stone screenplay greatly improves John Godey’s best-seller; pulsating score by David Shire. Remade for TV in 1998 and theatrically in 2009. – Leonard Maltin

Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1)

It’s been a while since we’ve had a movie that really catches the mood of New York and New Yorkers. The crisis mentality of what Henry James called “the vast hot pot”—which was revealed when numerous natives were convinced that they alone had caused the great November blackout of 1965—or the New York brand of logic that surfaced when a taxi driver shouted, “If we can get rid of Lindsay, we can get rid of the traffic!” is reflected in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The picture, directed by Joseph Sargent, opened yesterday at the 86th Street East and the Criterion Theater.

Walter Matthau’s best caustic energies erupt as a Transit Authority lieutenant, and Peter Stone’s script abounds with dialogue that’s just right for this actor’s benign bad temper. (Surely no one can say “Gesundheit!” to a sneezer quite so aggressively as Mr. Matthau.)

Martin Balsam and Robert Shaw—one glazed with a sleazy regret, the other endowed with a calm brutality—are all too likely as your typical rush-hour hijackers. Lee Wallace makes a pleasing, indecisive slob of a Mayor—aware that he’ll be booed by any random crowd—and Tom Pedi is particularly good as an outraged official who can’t tolerate a mess or a mystery in the subway. The bullying Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) unleashes a line that does sound just like home: “We’re trying to run a city, not a goddam democracy!”

Throughout, there’s a skillful balance between the vulnerability of New Yorkers and the drastic, provocative sense of comedy that thrives all over our sidewalks. And the hijacking seems like a perfectly probable event for this town. (Perhaps the only element of fantasy is the implication that the city’s departments could function so smoothly together.) Meanwhile, the movie adds up to a fine piece of reporting—and it’s the only action picture I’ve seen this year that has a rousing plot. – NY Times

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Interesting Facts:

    • In a TVO (Ontario, Canada) interview, the producer said that this film did terrific box office in New York, Toronto, London and Paris – all cities with subways – but was considered a flop in the rest of the world.
    • Ever since the release of the film, no #6 train has never been scheduled to leave Pelham Bay Park Station at either 13:23 or 01:23 by the New York City Transit Authority. This was the practice for many years until the policy was discontinued but generally as a kind of tradition and caution, trains are still not scheduled to leave the Pelham Bay Park Station at either 1.23 am or pm.
    • Steven Spielberg was considered as the director.
    • Filmed mostly in the tunnels leading to the decommissioned IND Court St. station in Brooklyn. The station itself served as Grand Central and 28th St., and it is currently the home of the New York City Transit Museum.
    • The meaning of “Pelham One Two Three” refers to the New York subway timetable terminus and time of departure schedule radio call sign. As explained in the movie, “Pelham” is the name of the station of origin where the subway train departs whereas “One Two Three” refers to the time of departure i.e. 1.23 pm.
    • The original film is considered a classic while the remake is considered better than expected.
    • One of three tough guy action movies that Walter Mathau made in the early to mid 1970s, prior to his bypass surgery in 1976, which prevented him from taking on such roles. The other two were Charley Varrick (1973) and The Laughing Policeman (1973). – TCM

Notes compiled by David Burgess

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