Sunday, November 9, 2008

Film #84: The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three

I still remember sitting over at my friend Brian Matson's apartment, snacks in hand, as I ran across this movie's opening credits. I'd always remembered the title: The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three. But somehow I missed this bloodcurdling juggernaut as a free-so-freeeee filmgoing child of the 1970s. But, here, in the 1990s, sitting in my friend's living room, I was struck by one thing first and foremost: the massively bombastic score by David Shire. This was a score that said, in all caps, "HERE'S A MOVIE FOR YA, BUDDY! TRY AND TOP THIS ONE, PAL O' MINE!! BETCHA CAN'T! DOUBLE BETCHA! TRIPLE BETCHA!!!"

Even Brian stuck his head around the corner and said "What the hell are you watching?" I said "I dunno, but it sounds good, don't it??!!" Needless to say, I stayed with it and I've been thanking my lucky stars ever since. If you wanna see an action film that the God's honest roadmap for every other action movie made in its wake, then look no further, Mac. Here we have Jaws fisherman Robert Shaw as ultra-calm Mr. Blue, Garry- Marshall- movie- mainstay Hector Elizondo as kill-krazy Mr. Grey, Home Improvement's barely-seen next-door neighbor Earl Hindman as the shy Mr. Brown, and A Thousand Clowns Oscar-winner Martin Balsam as Mr. Green. (So, do all these Mr. Color names remind you of anything?) Together, these guys hatch a plot to hijack a subway car for...get this...ONE MILLION dollars (hey, stop those Dr. Evil jokes...a million bucks was really a MILLION BUCKS back in 1974).

Mr. Blue contacts the subway authorities, headed by Walter Matthau (in a rare 1970s dramatic role, though he still gets a laugh here and there (like when he insults a group of picture-taking Japanese businessmen who actually know English pretty well). Just as jowly as ever, Matthau acts as a reluctant go-between for the city and the kidnappers, who've given the mayor (an Ed-Koch-like Lee Wallace) one little hour to get their asses moving on this thing. Lemme tell ya, ab-so-lute chaos ensues.

Even if you find '70s movies boring (shame on you if you do), you're gonna love this one. It's about to be remade with snoozearama veterans John Travolta and Denzel Washington in the leads, so see it soon, cause the new version is bound to blow big-time (even if it does co-star the fantastic James Gandofini from The Sopranos). If you do rent it, you'll get to see Ben's dad Jerry Stiller in a supporting role as Matthau's smart-aleck second-in-command. You'll see Matthew's dad James Broderick as a flummoxed subway driver who's let go pretty early. You'll see Woody Allen sidekick Tony Roberts as the mayor's no-shit advisor. You'll see a quick flash of Doris Roberts before she became the mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. You'll see a vast array of then-scuzzy-cool New York locales expertly captured by cinematographer Owen Roizman (who did a few other little New York films like The French Connection, Network, Tootsie, and The Exorcist).

And, most importantly, you'll actually find that--hey, my heart is in my freakin' throat--as the train chugs towards its fate. Yeah, ya don't care about any of the passengers (because they're so annoying--the movie's one fault, or its bravest choice, take your pick). But it don't matter 'cause you'll still never be able to guess what's gonna happen in this head-butt of a movie based on John Godey's best seller, and directed by Emmy-winner Joseph Sargeant. And that title theme--occasionally you'll be able to shake your fanny to it on the dance floor, courtesy of some VERY creative DJs out there. So what's not to like?

1 comment:

Dan said...

Great essay! I watched this last night and loved the bejesus out of it. I had gotten it from Netflix last week before I heard about the remake and had read your post. I think you're right that the remake will surely suck - I mean Tony Scott? At least it'll encourage folks to seek out the original.