Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

One of the unfortunate traits of the film industry is that eventually every film, the great and the good and the genuinely mediocre will get remade with John Travolta playing a prominent role. Today's flick of the day is another fine example of this trend. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a taut 1972 thriller was remade in 2009 by Tony Scott in an infinitely inferior version.
On a quiet afternoon in New York City, four men take control of a New York Subway train, Pelham 123 packed with commuters. Led by Mr Blue, icily played by Robert Shaw, they demand payment of $1m  in an hour or they will start killing passengers. On the other end of the radio is Transit Cop Garber, played by Walther Matthau. He has to stop the hijackers from following through while the money is raised and keeping the more aggressive members of the police in check.

Mr. Blue: Ladies and gentlemen, it might interest you to know that the City of New York has agreed to pay for your release. 
[Hostages cheer] 
Old Man: Excuse me, sir. Do you mind telling me how much you're getting? 
Mr. Blue: What's it to you, sir? 
Old Man: A person likes to know his worth. 
Mr. Blue: One million dollars. 
Old Man: That's not so good.

This film was the box office popcorn flick of its day, a simple story told well with two strong performances from Matthau and Shaw. It is interesting to compare the choice of actor with the remake for it is the strongest reason why a remake was unnecessary. Robert Shaw was always an actor of substance, in a career cut short by his untimely death at aged 51, he played a host of stellar roles. In the remake, his role is played by John Travolta. Not much one can really add to that. Apart from the cast, the other strength of the film is the shooting on location in New York. The city becomes an additional character to the plot. Add this to a script that cleverly ratchets up the tension to a grand finale, and you have a fine action picture.

Mr. Blue: Now, then, ladies and gentlemen, do you see this gun? It fires 750 rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition per minute. In other words, if all of you simultaneously were to rush me, not a single one of you would get any closer than you are right now. I do hope I've made myself understood.

Directed by Joseph Sargent from a source novel, the film really catches the zeitgeist of 1970's New York, a city with a host of problems having almost gone bankrupt. The various commuters that populate the film act as a great cross section of New York society. Sargent was mainly a TV director, and the craft honed on the small screen such as his efficient use of an ensemble cast shines through.
All in all, a fine film and a great example of an early 70's blockbuster. Driven by strong performances from Robert Shaw and Walther Matthau and an action filled script, this is well worth a second look.

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