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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three film image

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

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This may be the quintessential 70s movie. At the very least, it’s a pungent reminder of the grimy New York City of that epoch, seemingly always on the verge of collapse. A gang of armed professionals hijack a New York subway train somewhere outside the Pelham station threatening to kill one hostage per minute unless their demands are met. Forced to stall these unknown assailants until a ransom is delivered or a rescue is made, transit chief Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau) must shrewdly outmaneuver the crafty, callous ringleader Mr Blue (Robert Shaw) in a lethal battle of wits (Quentin Tarantino co-opted the idea of colour-coded criminals for Reservoir Dogs).

The suspense comes from trying to figure out how on earth the gang plan to escape from underneath one of the busiest cities on the planet.

Unlike the bigger budget, starrier disaster movies so popular at the time, this urban crime thriller is lean and focused on the job at hand. And if the supporting cast might be rated B list in commercial terms, the likes of Héctor Elizondo, Jerry Stiller and Martin Balsam are palpably there. Cinematography by Owen Roizman (The French Connection) and a top score by David Shire (The Conversation). As for the kicker… it kills.

Caution: the racially-obsesssed vernacular of the 70s is a time-capsule in itself.

Once just a solid thriller, now a time capsule spiked with amphetamines, Joseph Sargent’s subway-hijack picture from 1974 taps into viewers’ paranoia over a decrepit, vulnerable infrastructure and then provides bitter laughs and a harrowing catharsis.

Michael Sragow, New Yorker

The kind of gritty, relentless thriller that could only come from the 70s, Joseph Sargent’s subway suspenser is a hardboiled treat.

Will Thomas, Empire

Director

Joseph Sargent

Cast

Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Héctor Elizondo, Jerry Stiller, Martin Balsam

Credits
Country of Origin

USA

Year

1974

Language

English

19+
104 min

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Credits

Producer

Gabriel Katzka, Edgar J. Scherick

Screenwriter

Peter Stone

Cinematography

Owen Roizman

Editor

Gerald Greenberg, Robert Q. Lovett

Original Music

David Shire

Art Director

Gene Rudolf

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