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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Your May 2008 Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In!

Preshow Entertainment: MAGNUM P.I.

Tagline: We are going to kill one passenger a minute until New York City pays us 1 million dollars.



We were meant to watch an episode of MAGNUM P.I. called "Laura." It was the episode that Sinatra did. But instead of airing "Laura" they ran "All For One, Part 2." That's right, part two of a "serious" MAGNUM, something about going back to Vietnam. Who knows? Who cares? Not us. So pissed were we that we ignored it almost entirely, opting to yap and gossip with each other instead.

Magnum F.U.


I wanted to see the original 1974 version of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE again before Tony Scott ruins it when his arrives in 2009. Okay, maybe he won't ruin it. No, maybe he will.

Who would think that a story about hijacking a subway car could keep you riveted for an hour and forty-four minutes. But like many great claustro-thrillers like DESPERATE HOURS (the original), SUDDENLY, CRY TERROR! and my favorite - THE INCIDENT (which also takes place on a subway and was Martin Sheen's movie debut), PELHAM grabs you by the throat with its lovable tone of crime thriller and humor, so much so that I even forgive it for the good guys not figuring out how the bad guys were planning to get away.

PELHAM opens with Martin Balsam heading into the subway. He sneezes, which forces him to adjust his fake moustache. Between this and the title, we know what's coming.

On the case is grumpy (not so) old man Walter Matthau. Having one person in charge (he would get help later) won't happen in the remake, but in all fairness it shouldn't have happened in this version either. I mean, someone hijacks a subway car filled with hostages and a lone nebbish is the only option? That said, this is no mere nebbish. This is Walter Matthau. Let John McClane and Jack Bauer run around with guns. I'll take Matthau in his slobberific glory any day. Because now we don't have a gun battle, we have a cat and some mice. And not only is Matthau perfect here, but PELHAM is one of his only movies where he's not running around in boxer shorts.

And what a crew of colorful bad guys - Ringleader of the caper Robert Shaw (this was part of his 1973-1975 bravura-trifecta along with THE STING and JAWS) as Mr. Blue. Earl Hindman played Mr. Brown (a year earlier he had a small role in the fabulous THE PARALLAX VIEW). Does his name sound familiar? He was the neighbor you never see talk in HOME IMPROVEMENT. Loose cannon Mr. Grey was played by Garry Marshall go-to Hector Elizondo. And Martin Balsam played kvetching ex-motorman Mr. Green. These weren't their real names, of course. It's just what they called each other in front of the hostages. I get the feeling Quentin rented this movie to lots of his customers.

Subplots involve the mayor trying to make a decision on how to handle the situation, getting the hijackers their money on time, a cop (in disguise) on the train, and NYC employees with take-no-shit attitudes which to people who weren't living in NYC in the 70s must surely seem over the top (they're not, there really were people like that). And if that's not enough, Matthau is in the middle of taking a group of non-English speaking Japanese subway consultants on a tour of the facility.

This is no simple movie about 4 guys hijacking a subway car. The subtext is all 70s; from racism to women's lib, it's a glimpse of the times that were changing. When a worker mentions something to station master Dolowicz about his swearing in front of the new (and first) female employee, he replies, "If I have to watch my language because somebody let a few broads in, I'm gonna quit." Also under the surface is the power struggle between Mr. Brown and Mr. Grey. When Grey goes against Brown's orders, Brown tells him, "I once had a man shot for talking like that." Grey replies, "Well, that's the difference between us. I've always done my own killing." Great line, made even better later in the film when (slight spoiler alert!) Mr. Brown kills someone. We cut to Brown, back to Grey, then back to Brown.

PELHAM Movie Poster
For a film that takes place mostly in a subway car, we are sure rewarded with a great cast of supporting actors. This was Kenneth McMillan's second movie (the first was SERPICO). And though nobody asked, McMillan was terrific in my favorite sleeper movie, CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER. And though no one cares, not even me, he did an episode of MAGNUM P.I. Also on board (sometimes literally) are character actors Doris Roberts and Jerry Stiller (yes children, they did a few hundred things before Sitcomland), a brief appearance by Joe Seneca, and a wish-it-were-briefer appearance by Woody Allen stable actor Tony Roberts. And the motorman was played by Matthew Broderick's dad, James.

From David Shire's opening credits music (sadly, the terrific soundtrack is unavailable at this time) to the subtle yet incredibly memorable ending, THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is a ride that everyone should take. But remember - the 1974 version. The one that was made when you had to use a token to ride the subway. Because I fear the remake starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta will have all the suspense and fun of a used Metrocard.

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