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Blu-ray: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent, 1974)

A New York subway train is hijacked by four heavily armed men: Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo) and Mr. Green (Martin Balsam). They threaten to kill the passengers unless the city of New York pays them a million dollars within an hour. Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau) of the New York City Transit Police is in charge of dealing with the hijackers, trying to buy time and figuring out their next move in order to save the passengers and the million bucks.

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is a terrific action thriller, filmed in a realistic style typical of the era, with a natural pacing, still maintaining tension and suspense. Notable is also the gritty 1970s music score by David Shire (husband of “Rocky’s” Talia Shire). Save for some exceptions, Robert Shaw being the most obvious one, native New Yorkers were cast to add to the authenticity of the New York feel of the film. Walter Matthau grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan, Martin Balsam was from the Bronx, Tom Pedi and Jerry Stiller (Ben Stiller’s dad) were both born in Brooklyn.

To me this is one of the quintessential films about 1970s New York, on par with movies like “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) and “Taxi Driver” (1976). As where the “Taxi Driver” and “Dog Day Afternoon” show the desperation, loneliness and craziness that can be experienced when living in a metropole, “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” takes the prize when it comes to catching the big city vibe of New York and more in particular the sense of rush and stress that goes with it. The New York subway is a perfect vehicle for this. Intrinsically the subway is all about speed already. The trains go fast, travelers are hasty and running the subway is even more stressful. “How the hell can you run a (...) railroad without swearing”, subway man Caz Dolowicz (Tom Pedi) expresses the strain he is under. The hijacking puts the protagonists under even bigger pressure and the situation also shows how the daily stress can cause a certain degree of apathy. Correll (Dick O’Neill), the subway employee trying to keep the subway system running in spite of the ongoing hijacking, shouts at one point: “Screw the (...) passengers! What the hell did they expect for their lousy 35 cents... to live forever?” A sense of humor with at times a touch of irony can be a good tool to put the challenges of living in a big city into perspective and there are traces of this big city humor all over the film. The funny bits never clash with the realism of the thriller movie though. Director Joseph Sargent always manages to hit the right tone.

The blu-ray itself can be qualified as being bare-bones. The only extra feature is the trailer, which is in HD, but the image quality, color scheme and graininess are quite film-like and most probably as was originally intended. The English mono soundtrack is lossless and presents the dialogue and the superb musical score well. Even though I would have liked a commentary track I am very happy to have this film on blu-ray and find it an easy recommendation. They just don’t make ‘em like that any more.

Frederick von Schtupp

Rating: 8 out of 10


Movie details:

Director: Joseph Sargent

Starring: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Dick O’Neill, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, Tom Pedi, Jerry Stiller, Dick O’Neill, Lee Wallace

Country: USA

Year of release: 1974


Edition details:

Released by: MGM

Country: USA

Year of release: 2011

Disc: Dual layered blu-ray, MPEG4 AVC, 1080p

Region code: A, B, C

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Running time: 104 mins

Language: English, French, Spanish

Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, French, none

Special features: Trailer

Packaging: Standard blu-ray case