Hop aboard, the train is leaving the station.
Answer: with a meticulously crafted plan.
Lt. Garber has the duty of trying to corodinate and communicate with different people at various levels of the city government. Since this is the 1970s, this is all done with radios, telephones, CBs, things like that. What I'm getting at is that it takes time, a commodity the hostages don't have much of. Garber has to talk to Subway Police Lt. Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller) who then has to call the Transit Manager, a surly fellow by the name of Caz Dolowicz (Tom Pedi), while Garber calls the Police Commissioner (Rudy Bond), who then coordinates with Inspector Daniels (Julius Harris) and the Borough Commander (Kenneth McMillian). The Mayor (Lee Wallace), home sick in bed with the flu, is brought the news by Deputy Mayor Warren LaSalle (Tony Roberts), while Garber organizes his people (like loud mouthed Frank [Dick O'Neill]) on his end and keeps in communication with the hijackers.
Lt. Garber is introduced in a humorous fashion, as his first scene involve him giving a tour of the Transit Authority (and thus, a tour given to the audience) to a group of visiting Japanese business men. They shuffle about, taking picutres as Garber points out this and that, but Garber gets the impression that they don't speak English, so he starts feeding them some nonsense and drops a few insults. He's only saved from this situation when the hijackers make their first move on the subway car, but Garber isn't saved from his own embarrassment.
Once the hijacking goes down though, Garber gains a no-nonsense attitude. He becomes focused and you can see his mind turning, looking for answers and clues as to who is doing this and how they plan on getting away with it. He makes a good foil to go up against Mr. Blue, who has a similar steely determination. Garber is a gruff guy (the scene where he chews out Frank is a standout), but he keeps his wits about him and his sense of humor remains intact until the end.
The filmmaking is tight and non-flashy and director Joseph Sargent manages to keep the movie flowing at a good pace. With this many characters, locations, and with a "high concept" premise (for the early 70s), this film, in the hands of a less capable director, might of been a mishmash of elements without any value to it. Sargent was mainly a director of TV movies, but in the 70s and 80s he managed to get behind a few feature films, including directing Burt Reynolds in the fun moonshine-actioner White Lightning (1973) and Michael Caine in the terribly dreadful Jaws: The Revenge (1987), which would be Sargent's final theatrical film.
Cinematographer Owen Roizman also shot William Friedkin's The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), the former which surely led to his hiring on Pelham One Two Three (the latter of which is just awesome). He would also shoot Three Days of the Condor (1975), Network (1976), Straight Time (1978), and Tootsie (1982).
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was based on a popular book of the same name by John Godey. Screenwriter Peter Stone also wrote Charade (1963), which starred Audrey Hepburn and. . . Walter Matthau.
Good ol' Walter Matthau is pretty great in this. He's the smarmy everyman hero, with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. The final look he gives at the end of the film is pure gold. Matthau plays Lt. Garber in a hard-lined manner similar to Charley Varrick (1973), but with a funny edge, sort of like The Bad News Bears (1976). The plaid shirt and yellow tie he wears most of the movie is pretty funny in its own right.
Two-Minute Warning (1976) and The Sentinel (1977).
As you can tell from above, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is full of great character actors (most of them of the New York variety) in all of the supporting roles. Even though the film cuts between the multiple viewpoints of all these characters spread throughout the city, it still manages to maintain the necessary pace for a tick-of-the-clock thriller. From the moment it starts, the movie races towards its finish and it keeps you guessing until the end.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is easily the best Mass Transit thriller ever released (suck it, Speed) and it is more popular than you might imagine, at least amongst people you've heard of. Quentin Tarantino borrowed the idea of color coded names for the heisters in his debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992) and seminal NYC hip-hop group The Beastie Boys name checks the film in their song 'Sure Shot.' So, you know, it's just not me who likes and recommends this movie; famous people do to.The Hollywood Theatre a couple weeks ago. The 35mm print looked great, the crowd dug it, etc. I would've had this write-up done sooner but, you know, it's been unseasonably nice outside and I like sunshine.
*You probably are aware that this movie was remade in 2009 by Tony Scott starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta (I've not seen it, but I bet it has lots of shaky editing and Travolta is over-the-top), but did you know there was a remake before the remake?? Yup, in 1998 there was a TV movie version made with Edward James Olmos, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Donnie Wahlberg.
|Walter Matthau goofing around on set...|
|....but seriously, check out The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.|