The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

I think this is the first movie with Walter Matthau that I have reviewed. I have seen movies with Matthau in them, but I do not think that I have written up any of them. The first film from the classic actor that will make the DailyView and Doc’s Classic Movies Reviewed is The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

A group of four heavily armed men, led by Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), hijacked one of the New York Subway Trains, holding the passengers on it hostage. The men made a demand of $1,000,000 or else they would begin killing hostages one at a time. Matthau is Lt. Zachary Garber, who is part of the NY Transit Police, communicates with the hijackers and get their list of demands. He also manages the attempt to stop what they were intending to do.

Walter Matthau is excellent here, his snarky dialogue and sarcastic tone working in overdrive. His character is in direct contradiction to Mr. Blue’s refined, snobby European type character. One would think there eventually was some inspiration from Mr. Blue for the character of Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

Jaws’ Robert Shaw is a wonderful opposition to Matthau’s character. Shaw is playing a thinking man’s villain and is about as cold blooded as you could get.

The film does a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat while still having moments of humor. The differing tones do not feel out of place and work together well.

The ending of the movie really works well and provides a couple of shocking moments that you do not see coming. The film is making the argument about how the desire for money can poison some people.

The film includes several familiar faces including character actors Martin Balsam, Earl Hindman, Jerry Stiller, Dick O’Neill, Doris Roberts, James Broderick, Nathan George, Lee Wallace (playing a Mayor as he did several times in his career) and Hector Elizondo. Many of these actors wound up playing supporting roles on sitcoms over the years.

This was a quick, enjoyable story of the conflict between good and evil, and showcases the efforts of the public servants in emergencies. There was a bit with four Japanese businessmen early into the film that made no sense and felt a little racist, but that is the time frame of the 1970s sticking its backward thinking into the film. Other than that, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was a lot of fun and was exciting to see.

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