Combustible Celluloid
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With: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, James Broderick, Dick O'Neill, Lee Wallace, Tom Pedi, Beatrice Winde, Jerry Stiller, Nathan George, Rudy Bond, Kenneth McMillan, Doris Roberts, Julius Harris
Written by: Peter Stone, based on a novel by John Godey
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 104
Date: 09/01/1974

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

In Harm's Subway

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This is gritty, entertaining 1970s filmmaking at its finest. Joseph Sargent directs a fairly simple, yet gripping hijack tale, set in and around New York's subway. Four thugs with color names ("Mr. Blue," "Mr. Gray," etc.) methodically take over a subway car filled with passengers/hostages. They demand one million dollars (non-sequential serial numbers, in fifties and hundreds) to be delivered in one hour. A transit authority cop, Lieutenant Garber (Walter Matthau) finds himself in charge, and most of the snappy, fast-paced movie is spent as characters bark at each other over radio mikes, sending each other orders and updates. Sargent gets a wonderful, vivid New York feel as each character assert his or her own strong city-bred personality and attitude; even the passengers aren't afraid to speak up to their captors. Sargent also favors wide, space-filled shots, so that all the city's personality can seep in. The crafty screenwriter Peter Stone (Charade) sets things up as Garber gives a comical tour of the transit facilities to a team of Japanese colleagues; in a relatively brief amount of time, he lets us know exactly how everything operates, just in time for the action to start. Robert Shaw is terrific as the soft-spoken, British-accented villain, with Hector Elizondo as the loose cannon and Martin Balsam as the practical one with experience in operating the trains. Jerry Stiller, Doris Roberts and Tony Roberts also appear. A TV remake followed in 1998, as did a 2009 theatrical remake.

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