A 70s Crime Thriller Not to be Sneezed at
Not so much forgotten but collecting dust in the archives "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" deservedly got brought back to the public attention when Tony Scott decided to remake it. With it's story of 4 criminals holding a subway train and it's passengers hostage in a tunnel it is a classic game of cat and mouse as transport cop Lt. Zachary Garber tries to outsmart the icy cool Mr. Blue and his men. But it is more than just another crime story as it also has a lightness, a stream of wit which not only flows through the movie but is also pivotal to the story. And it keeps you watching because not only do you want to know if Garber catches them but also how these 4 men plan to escape from a train stopped in a New York subway tunnel.
When four armed men take control of a New York subway train and demand $1,000,000 for it's and the passengers release, transit cop Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau - Lonely Are the Brave) finds himself not only trying to negotiate with the men but also with City Hall who seem in no hurry to help despite being given only an hour to deliver the money. With the clock ticking down Garber must not only try and bargain but try and work out how these 4 men plan to make their get away from a subway train in the middle of a tunnel.
On face value "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" almost comes across as just another 70s crime movie where we have bad guys and good guys. But there is a cleverness to it especially when it comes to the details such as the bad guys referring to each other by colours rather than names. And it is this cleverness which keeps us watching because on one hand we want to know how Garber will out smart these men and get them whilst part of us wants to know how they plan to escape from a subway train in a tunnel. The escape itself is not that great but how Garber goes after the men, well that is good and in many ways it is this side of things which makes it so memorable especially the final scenes.
But on top of this game of cat and mouse as Garber tries to outsmart Mr. Blue and his men there is also a strong stream of humour which flows through the story and is pivotal to the outcome. You can't help but be amused watching Garber having to give a guided tour to a bunch of directors from Tokyo especially as he thinks they don't understand what he is saying when in reality they do. And Garber's blend of sarcasm and wit flows through out not only making him an entertaining character but also makes his negotiations with Mr. Blue strangely fun. It adds another layer to what would have been just another crime drama with out it.
It's thanks to Walter Matthau's wonderful delivery of the subtle sarcasm which helps draw us in but it is also the contrast when it comes to Robert Shaw as Mr. Blue. For every icy cool demand from Mr. Blue as he gives his demands to Garber there is a dry humorous rebuff which makes us smile. It may not be that realistic that Garber would be sarcastic to a man who is demanding a million dollars and holding a group of passengers hostage but it provides the centre of much of the entertainment.
Matthau and Shaw are not the only good performances and helping deliver the humour is Jerry Stiller as the sarcastic Lt. Rico Patrone. But it is Martin Balsam as Mr. Green who steals many a scene from the moment we meet him, sneezing and making sure his false moustache hasn't come off through to the way he suddenly becomes over his head as their crime leads to killing. It's almost as amusing as watching Matthau as Garber but without the sarcasm, especially when it comes to the final scenes which really are the crowning glory into what is a surprisingly good movie.
What this all boils down to is that "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" is a surprisingly entertaining 70s crime thriller. On one level it almost seems generic but thanks to the humour which flows throughout and the brilliant performances from Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw it grows into something more entertaining something which keeps you watching because it is amusing and at times quite clever.