Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

PelhamThumbby Brad Nelson
A magnificent dark comedy masquerading as a heist film. Were the Coen Brothers making films in the 70’s? No movie fan, let alone Walter Matthau fan, should miss this.

This is billed as a crime/drama/thriller, but the heist, while interesting enough, and populated by some fine villains, is not the meat of this picture. The meat is in the witty, contentious, and downright hilarious dark repartee between the men of the transit authority (led by Walter Matthau in one of his juicier roles) and Robert Shaw, head of the band of four men who have taken over a subway train. Here’s a sample of some banter in the transit control room:

My only priority is savin’ the lives of these passengers.

Screw the passengers! What do they expect for 23 cents? To live forever?

But first a warning: If you are a chronically politically correct person, you may not find the sassy, brassy, ballsy, boisterous and most decidedly politically incorrect New York witticisms all that funny.

But these Gotham characters make this film, a film which captures both New York and the 70’s in all its non-Kosher charm. There’s one running joke regarding a woman who is obviously one of the first women among the workforce of the transit authority control room. And she’s just eye-rolling her way through the movie as some of these supposedly smart men come unraveled by the crisis.

ShawThumbThis film has its share of action, but of main interest is this character study of New Yorkers themselves, including more than a couple stereotypical oddballs riding on the subway. This is Dog Day Afternoon with Don Rickles, except Don Rickles isn’t in this one, although he would have been perfect playing the part of the Lt. Rico Patrone who is played by Seinfeld’s Mr. Costanza, Jerry Stiller, who is  good in this role as well.

Comedy there is, but this is also a heist movie and there is plenty of suspense. But this is clearly a film for those who love good dialogue and sassy characters who, instead of being thin stereotypes, are believable as people. There is a difference between throw-away stilted one-liners that infest so many of today’s movies with their clunky delivery as compared to words spoken that sound natural and real in their native habitat.

WalterThumbWith the heist, the suspense, and the character study of seemingly real New Yorkers, there is much to hold your interest. And if that weren’t enough, it’s a very refreshing escape from stifling political correctness which has drained far too many movies of humor and originality. It’s a strong cast with a few other characters you might recognize who went on to fame, particularly in television. I give it a strong 3.5 third-rails out of 5. A very watchable movie. I haven’t seen the 2009 remake, but I would certainly start with this ones if you have seen neither. • (827 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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