Friday, June 22, 2007

Now Playing: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

I have a serious man-crush on crime cinema from the 1970s. I love the genre, I love the feel of everything, I love the funky music, and I certainly love the actors. Quentin Tarantino obviously loves this genre as well considering how much he rips off pays homage to it in everything he does. There is just something about seeing how things were back then and the naturalism used by film makers at the time. There were no big ILM-generated special effects, it was simply the good guys versus the bad guys and each set would try to outwit the other. There is something refreshing about it, and I get a charge whenever I find one that I’ve never seen. Such was the case with The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

I’d heard about this film for years but never actually seen it until recently. Tarantino most famously ripped it off paid homage to it with Reservoir Dogs because this is the film where the villains are named after colors. The setup is that four men, under aliases such as Mr. Blue and Mr. Grey, take a commuter train hostage one weekday afternoon and demand $1 million in cash be delivered in exactly one hour.

The Netflix packaging confused me because it said the bad guys threatened to carve graffiti on the passengers’ heads if their demands are not met, which is bizarre because Mr. Blue quite clearly states that they’ll kill a hostage for every minute the money is late. But the authorities are puzzled because since the bad guys are trapped underground on a commuter train, they have nowhere to go even if they get the money.

In short, the movie is fantastic. Robert Shaw is terrific as Mr. Blue and he’s calm, efficient, and utterly ruthless. Shaw was great in practically everything he did and the man was unfairly taken from the world far too early. He’s a very slick villain here and he’s matched by Walter Matthau as the hilariously put-out New York Transit Authority supervisor who is guiding a tour through the Authority’s offices when the hijackers call in. He then works with the cops and the Authority to bring down the bad guys who somehow manage to stay one step ahead of everything the cops do.

It also has a genuine classic final shot and one that had me laughing my head off. Oh, and did I mention the movie is absolutely hilarious at times? Matthau gives such great gruff that even in the midst of a crisis like this he brings the funny. The cast is also filled with tons of New York character actors and it was especially amusing to see Jerry Stiller as one of the transit cops who gets roped into things.

This is one of those films that perfectly captures the look and feel of just how skuzzy New York City was back in the 1970s. Plus it has that great period music and equally great actors who seem to relish the cat-and-mouse nature of the story. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is definite viewing material if you’re even remotely a fan of the crime films of the 1970s.

1 comment:

  1. Crime + New York City + 1970s = great cinema. I'm adding it to my Netflix list now.