Monday, October 24, 2011

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Absolutely one of my favorite movies of the 1970s. I saw this when it first came out in 1974. I thought it was terribly exciting then and I still find it quite gripping.  Directed by Joseph Sargent with the great cast of Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam and Hector Elizondo. Filled with gritty tension and smart dialogue, I think this is one the best crime dramas of all time. Robert Shaw leads a group of mustachioed men who hijack a New York City subway train and hold the passengers hostage. The facial hair is a disguise and they all go by a color for a name (Mr. Blue, Mr. Green etc. Tarantino paid homage to that in Reservoir Dogs).  Walter Matthau is on the other side as the head of security negotiating with the hijackers. You do get a little humor on that side, especially with some of the supporting actors like Lee Wallace as The Mayor. It's all serious business in the subway train however as Shaw and Elizondo are especially uncompromising and menacing. The pacing is perfect with scenes going back and forth between the bad guys and the good guys. The soundtrack, composed and conducted by David Shire, is also excellent.

I saw the 2009 remake of this not too long ago and it was predictably bad. Tony Scott's over-the-top directing and John Tavolta's over-the-top acting pretty much kill the story. Everything is turned up to eleven and all the subtle menace is lost. As for the cast, the rest of the bad guys were pretty unremarkable. The good guys were better, with Denzel Washington, John Turturro and James Gandolfini all quite likeable. I saw this just a few months ago and I don't remember much else. It just didn't make an impression on me. Overall another pointless remake not worth watching except to compare to the original to see how much better that one was.

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