The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent, 1974)
A group of criminals are taking hostage for ransom the passengers of a busy New York City subway car.
Starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Hector Elizondo The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is an iconic film of the 1970’s. A good suspense and an influential movie for Quentin Tarantino with the naming of the criminals by colors (see Reservoir Dogs) and a huge influence on action films to come along with John Carpenter’s The Assault of Precinct 13. Not the actual film canon that is praised a lot habitually by this critic, but it is deserves its mention here.
Set in the New York City subway, the story is quite simple and shows how a solid plot involving a moderate dose of suspense can be successful in the hands of a lesser known director. This being his most notable feature and shows how every director has at least one good movie in the tunnel. Sargent will direct some lesser work and has not gave lots of titles to be recognized as an important name in Film history. However, his The Taking of Pelham One Two Three could be one of the main reasons why his name is still getting cited. Tarantino has cited his film has one of the coolest movies of all time.
Far from being a masterpiece, I enjoyed the chemistry between the criminals and how each one was a completion of the other. You have the easy trigger, the intellectual, etc. The sarcasm and the comedy that was not expected in this kind of film that can be compared to some comedy you have in films like Die Hard or in the Beverly Hills Cop series is also very enjoyable. Matthau is himself once again not doing too much but only what he is best at with his grumpy face and physical presence. There’s also some nice location shooting in New York City that reminds us how the city evolved since almost forty years.
It is also not a surprise to discover that it was a box-office success because it would please an audience of today with its characters and the tension that the material adapted by Peter Stone and originally written by Morton Freedgood.
Finally, besides the simplistic but aforementioned mise en scène, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is one of the most enduring cult film in the action genre.