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SCREENING #10: The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1974) – 105 Min.

the-taking-of-pelham-one-two-three

Four times Emmy Award winner Joseph Sargent’s (1925-2014) legendary hijack thriller incorporates all cinematic achievements by the B-Movies, American New Cinema and television: Shot mostly on the real streets and subways of New York and focusing on a minimal number of underacting characters lead by Walter Matthau as transit police lieutenant and British actor Robert Shaw (from “Jaws”) as the villains’ boss, it has a cool, gritty, realistic edge, accentuated by David Shire’s pulsating 12-tone jazz score. This film was remade twice, once as a TV production in 1998, and again in 2009, as feature film with John Travolta and Denzel Washington. It also may have had some influence on the cult hit “The Warriors” (1979), another down-to-earth, straight forward action film set in New York City.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072251/?ref_=tttr_tr_tt

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16 responses to “SCREENING #10: The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1974) – 105 Min.

  1. hiro ⋅

    I liked this film so much and probablly this is the best favorite among what I’vdm seen in this class. One reason why is that this film’s main topic of train hijacking is something familiar enough for me to keep my interest. Also I personally like detective like story which main character try to solve the issue using his creative idea. What I like the most in this film was that they use idea of foreshadowing. During the scene of train hijacking, one of the crimimal was constantly sneezing. This was not important till the end of the film, but it actually became the evident to find the criminal.
    Overall I enjoyed this film so much and this film remind me that simple story is also not a bad thing.

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  2. Adrian D ⋅

    This thriller was in a similar vein to many 1970s gritty crime dramas I have enjoyed in the past. The ones that come to mind are Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon and the French Connection. I like this style. One reason is that the faces in these films have character, and look more like real-life people than in contemporary Hollywood equivalents.
    The acting in The Taking of Pelham 123 was solid enough, however the villains weren’t especially memorable in any way, shape or form. I found the story to be pretty compelling though. Wondering how the criminals expected to escape with the money kept me interested until the end.
    I will say that Pelham was a bit lacking in the thrills department. None of the action scenes stood out, and even the literally shocking suicide of Robert Shaw’s character could have been made more dramatic.
    Maybe clouding my judgement is that fact that one of my favorite movies of all time is “Heat”. Heat is by far the best heist movie I have ever seen. If you were to compare the acting and action scenes in Heat to the those in Pelham, there would be no question as to which are more impressive. Overall though, I would have to say it was probably my second favorite of the movies we watched this semester behind Vanishing Point.

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  3. yui ⋅

    I have not seen the remake version of this movie yet, but after the discussion in class, I have a feeling that the original version, the one that we watched would be better in terms of the characterization. I liked how each character has a personal “color” as hijackers are named in the movie. I think the movie sheds light on each character well.

    At first I thought that the movie would be an entirely serious movie, but that was wrong. We can find a sense of humor or “underlying humor” here and there. For instance, I was wondering what the purpose of having Japanese business men in the beginning of the movie was, but as we discussed in class, they actually function as one of the plots, which provokes a touch of humor.

    I do like the fact that the movie was basically filmed on original locations, as opposed to being shot in a studio like a lot of modern movies. I would rather imagine casts acting on original locations as they are surrounded by real props than them acting in front of just a huge green wall.

    One thing I didn’t appreciate about this movie was Mr. Green’s sneeze. I understand how it contributes to the end of the movie, yet I thought it was too repetitious. First, I was wondering about the role of the element, but I got tired of seeing it towards the end. Due to its repetitive practice, I thought the ending turned out to be kind of predictable.

    Another point I noticed was that I heard a lot of cuss words. Everyone yells at each other and the story seems to develop with a controlled chaos. Now, after watching the movie, I understand what a “hard-boiled detective” refers to.

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  4. liannagutz ⋅

    I have seen the remake of this movie and I have to say that I just might like that one better. This might just be because the remake is a newer version and has actors I am familiar with.

    In the original film, we really get to see the people being held captive in the train. The remake of the film does not really focus on them that much but rather focuses on the main two actors, John Travolta and Denzel Washington. I think I like that they focus on the smaller characters in the original movie because you get to have a closer connection to them.

    I think that the fact that it was shot on an actual location rather than a remake in a studio is very interesting because you get to see the real New York. Because they used an actual location, there was a realness to the movie that a set could not recreate. We could see the setting for what it actually was meant to be.

    I also thought it was very interesting how they incorporated the Japanese business men. Throughout the film, I thought that they didn’t understand what was going on but we later find out that they knew all along.

    Overall, this was an interesting film to watch and although I had already known the story and the plot from watching the remake I still enjoyed it.

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  5. Lance

    It feels as though it has taken some time for our class to finally view a film that felt like a completely modern film. I feel as though The Taking of Pelham 123 was that movie. I wish I had seen the recent remake as I would have liked to compare and contrast the two films, possibly identifying changes that had to be made for the difference in viewing audiences, but sadly I have not. I quite enjoyed the film in its entirety, there weren’t really any aspects that I felt were severely lacking. A point of humor I found with the movie was in the script itself. It really brought out that stereotype of the rude, crude, trash-talking New Yorker in every character. I feel confident in saying that no character seemed to have an inkling of care as to how any other character felt about them. The film certainly had that grittiness that action and thriller movies had in the 70’s and 80’s. I can easily see how The Taking of Pelham 123 can be compared to The Warrior’s, as far as style and feel of the film. Watching the film made me realize that there was a feel that these older movies had, a feeling of nostalgia of watching gritty movies my mother would have never approved of.

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  6. akems

    The taking of Pelham 1-2-3 was very enjoyable to watch. I actually watched the recent one with Denzel Washington and John Travolta a long time ago. From what I remember, it was completely different from what we have seen. I almost did not realize it was a remake of the 2009 one. This film gives adrenaline rush with the good action scenes and some twists and deaths. I was very surprised how three of the suspects died. I liked the man who killed himself when the detective found him. Blue was such a good villain and reckless and unpredictable. I liked the fact that he sticks to what he says like not giving the time to the police to send the money. Killing the guy for shooting at them. It was thrilling and fun to watch.
    The last part was my favorite when the old man who got away was caught. I was so sure that the reason he will be caught is because he coughs. It felt really good to be able to know that twist. Watching this film and comparing it to newer one I realized that you do not necessarily need a good equipments and modern techniques to make an excellent film.

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  7. Lilou

    The taking of Pelham 123, directed by Joseph Sargent is about a brilliantly organized heist set entirely on a New York subway car. What really pulls the audience into this film is the acting. I was appalled by the interactions between the characters, the vulgar language and the way women were regarded as practically useless.
    What contrasts this New York banter is the Japanese business men who come into the office and are politely bowing throughout their tour. What I love about Sargent’s version, when compared to the 2009 remake is that it takes it time to build to the ultimate hijacking. It’s clear that these hijackers, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Gray etc. are up to something, but we don’t know exactly what that is, and that tension successfully drives the rest of the film. Mr. Blue’s performance was particularly exceptional throughout Pelham 123. It is a common trait of movies throughout the 70s-80s to use British actors as antagonists and in this case Robert Shaw’s performance was outstanding. He came off as cold and collect, writing crosswords in the midst of an extremely tense situation. Overall, I enjoyed Pelham tremendously and would call it my favourite out of all the films we’ve watched over the semester.

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  8. Max ⋅

    I have seen the remake of this movie a long time ago during a airplane flight. I was entertained, but I did not think anything special of it.
    After seeing the original though, I have to admit that I liked the remake more. One of the reasons is because they take the hostage situation so seriously. One thing that felt so weird about the original was the humor in it. It felt out of place.
    The first staff worker that talks to the lead criminal just keeps cussing him out and not listen to any of the demands. There are people’s lives at stake here! In a later scene you see he is more worried about running the other trains on time than the actual hostage situation.
    The scenes with the mayor were awkward and did not lead to anything but these scenes are also in the remake and are pretty weak as well.
    In the remake there is immediate tension where Denzel gets thrown into this mess and he has to communicate and keep travolta happy as he stalls for time. I really like that tension and Denzel does a great job of portraying a regular guy instead of the badass hero he usually plays.
    One thing I loved more about the original was the scale. It felt bigger! That might sound strange since the remake has more action scenes and bigger budget (100,000,000 dollars!!!!), but there are only a few characters and locations in the remake that get reused all the time.
    In the original you have the people on the train, the main character back at the station, the black police chief he keeps informed, the mayor, the chubby white police officer who is waiting for instruction, the head of police who assembles all the forces as he is in the car, the rude cussing department boss at the station who goes to the train and gets shot and lots and lots of extras. It just felt so big in terms of scale and characters involved and I always love that feeling. I like it so much that it can save a bad movie from being bad for me. The first 20 minutes of Battle for Los Angeles are on this scale as well and I love it, but unfortunately after that you could see that they ran out of budget and could not keep that same scale up. It’s the same reason I love movies like Independence Day and starship troopers.

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  9. Weni Chang ⋅

    This is the most interesting film I’ve ever watched in this class! Plenty numbers of elements composed with humor, hilarity, as well as inspiration.

    At the beginning, I was not quite understand what is going on. All the characters are wearing strange costumes, dressing like some kinds of people from Ancient Greece. As the story goes on, I realized that the entire film is sticked with one theme — sex! Not only the plots are all related to sex, but also the characters are acing in a very sexual way, especially felam e.

    Perhaps, it can be said that this film also has the function of educating the audience. Since the name Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, to a certain extend, it has the responsibility of answering things that we always wonder about sex. And it did provide us the answer — through a hilarious performance of the characters. The last theme where all the men are in pure white costumes in a female body, working really hard on figuring out the meanings of the woman’s body reaction is a highlight of the entire film.

    Personally, I think this film is incredible. It is not only highly entertaining but also meaningful. Of course, the portion of making fun of what we always wanted to know about sex covers 90 percent of the film, I was able to understand and experience what the director meant by the “things that we always wanted to know about sex” throughout the entire story.

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    • Weni Chang ⋅

      Sorry, I posted the comment from the last screening by accident.

      Here is my opinion about The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3.

      Personally, perhaps it is because I am not familiar with this kind of action movie that involved a huge portion of logical reasoning, I had a hard time understanding what was going on and why things were happening in certain ways. However, I was amazed by the shooting skills in this film. The entire film was shot in the New York subway, which was very challenging already. In addition, not only the casts that but also the whole producing crew was very well-trained beforehand. Moreover, I found that the story plot was connected cleverly in a way that it gave the audience the hint and guid them to the right direction while confusing them at the same time. Although I was too sure about what was going on during the screening, my emotion was hanging all the time since I was nervous and dying to know what the truth was.

      On the other hand, one particular thing about this film that I would like to bring up is the relationship between the hostages and the kidnappers. The hostages were treated very nicely as they were barely hurt and no one was killed. This is very different from what I was expecting. One thing that I enjoy about this type of scene is when people are tortured brutally. Because it makes me scared, nervous, angry, and exciting all at the same time and I really enjoy this kind of feeling from movies. Therefore, it will be more interesting if the way the hostages interrupt with the kidnappers can be more drastic.

      Overall, I think it is a nice movie. The ending is surprising but understandable as well. And I did enjoy all the logic resounding scenes that makes the audience ponder in the film.

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  10. Sandra ⋅

    Just like Liannagutz I have seen the remake on this film and I also preferred the new one, it’s more flashy Hollywood action with actors that I know of and was just keeping my attention in another way.

    I however really loved the concept of the “gangsters” in the original film, the polished and calm gentleman character just looked really cool in this film. I would have loved to see this type of villain in the remake, like we discussed in class, they really have to state it clearly over and over that Travoltas character is smart because the language he uses and his “look” is all really thug/bad guy and he really doesn’t come off as intelligent.

    In this way the story of the original just makes more sense, in the remake you can almost think that Travolta just didn’t think his heist trough that much. The more I’m reflecting on the films I’m realizing that I might just prefer the original, it feels bigger, more organized and more complicated. In a good way. The remake I guess really caters to the modern “lazy” consumer which is why I initially though it was more entertaining, however The taking of Pelham 123 is just more complex well developed story with more interesting characters. It was a good watch and I would recommend it to someone else.

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  11. Reggie ⋅

    In my opinion “The Taking of Pelham” was a movie that expressed strong stereos types while telling a story of a hostage train hijacking. It has a wide range of characters going from the ex-mercenary who would rather kill himself then go to jail to the laid-back cop that never loses his cool during the whole. Various other characters like the black pimp, ex-con, Japanese tourist and so on. I like how they were able to do the on scene shooting, which I believed gave the shoot a more realistic feeling. I’ve seen a lot of movies with Walter Matthau in it, but this is the first time I’ve seen him play a slightly serious character. I recognized a couple other actors, but they played roles pretty much close to their previous characters. I found it funny how no one was taking the hijacking serious in the first place. Made me wonder where the writer came up with the idea when he wrote that scene. Guess he was trying to portray how unbelievable it was for someone to hijack at train. Some parts of the story was kinda confusing to me. It seemed like they had the whole thing planed out. Deciding which train they wanted to get, having the right people to do the job and where they going to be, but they seemed to have failed on the planning for the getaway. Like when they left did they have a car waiting? Why did the person who got away go straight home? What better alibi to have then being able to say you were not even in town when it happened, why even answer the door? The movie made up for the slow pace by keeping you guessing and wanting to see what was going to happen next. How are these people going to be able to escape the people? How simple is the plan of just getting out early, like that not going having cops posted at every exit? To me there were some holes in the story but it must have been decent to get a remake. Overall I thought the movie was a decent movie and would recommend it to other people.

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  12. Michelle ⋅

    I, for one, usually prefer remakes because of the usually Hollywood star value and better CG (if the original movie has one). However, for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, I really do enjoy the 1974 version. I have not seen the 2009 remake, but considering the list of difference it has from the pioneer, I would say I wouldn’t watch it even if it features Denzel Washington.
    The movie is pretty much straight-forward, which I think is the main reason I really enjoyed it. It does not contain unnecessary sub-plots just for the heck of it, nor to add a background story for the characters. The important storyline is that the New York subway train was taken hostage, and that’s what the movie is about. It helps the audience stay as focused as possible in the story. It really had me at the edge of my seat thinking, how would the hostage takers would actually get away of this considering they’re underground. I’d say that was quite unexpected. As for the casting, it was good. I didn’t realize Hector Elizondo was casted until I researched about the film. To cast a British actor as the main villain is quite stereotypical; however Robert Shaw’s performance is really good. The little comedic touch in the film is enough as well, just the right time to somehow cut the tension or divert attention in the movie. The film score is very nice as well. There’s a little overshadowing when it comes to the coughing, and it was pretty hilarious when it was the same reason Mr. Green was caught when he was really close to getting away with it.
    Overall, I wouldn’t mind watching this film for the second time.

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  13. Derrick Gray ⋅

    A quite enjoyable film. Having ‘The Warriors’ as one of my favorite movies, it was nice to see a film that inspired it. The on-scene shooting was used effectively. Something that stood out to me was how th use of technology of communication was used as a plot device. The radio communication was interesting because, other than the mayor, it allowed the locations in the film to remain limited to the communication room, the train, and the squad cars. The radio communication also aided in another aspect of the film that I respected which was character development.
    The character developement in this film was captivating. Many characters are introduced and used effectively throughout the film. With so many noteable characters in the film, it could have been easy for the development of the characters to be weak. However, especially with the terrorists, each character had their own background story which added to the film significantly.
    The last notable point which added to the enjoyement of this film is the play on New Yorkers. The jokes, the accents, and the “don’t waste my time” attidude was exaggerated, however it added a tremendous amount of dark humor to The Taking of Pelham 123. Of the many jokes in the film, the disrespect and dissatisfaction of women in the workplace was reiterated several times throughout the film. Jokes such as those would never be accepted today.

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  14. Derrick Gray ⋅

    A quite enjoyable film. Having ‘The Warriors’ as one of my favorite movies, it was nice to see a film that inspired it. The on-scene shooting was used effectively. Something that stood out to me was how th use of technology of communication was used as a plot device. The radio communication was interesting because, other than the mayor, it allowed the locations in the film to remain limited to the communication room, the train, and the squad cars. The radio communication also aided in another aspect of the film that I respected which was character development.
    The character developement in this film was captivating. Many characters are introduced and used effectively throughout the film. With so many noteable characters in the film, it could have been easy for the development of the characters to be weak. However, especially with the terrorists, each character had their own background story which added to the film significantly.
    The last notable point which added to the enjoyement of this film is the play on New Yorkers. The jokes, the accents, and the “don’t waste my time” attidude was exaggerated, however it added a tremendous amount of dark humor to The Taking of Pelham 123. Of the many jokes in the film, the disrespect and dissatisfaction of women in the workplace was reiterated several times throughout the film. Jokes such as those would never be accepted today. The jokes and aesthetics of this film are what made it as enjoyable as it was.

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  15. Got this in late because I got the 2009 remake and it’s dropped frame “style” turned me off immediately and I found the 1974 one everyone watched in class.

    Let me start off by saying I am sick and I’ve been dabbing my nose with tissue and sneezing all over the place. The scenes involving the ex-train conductor and the mayor had me sympathizing hardcore. I had a suspicion seeing so many extreme close-ups of his nose, during the montage and exposition phase, but I didn’t expect it to come full circle and have me cracking up and pointing at the screen. On that note I had originally felt that after the ex-train conductor had escaped- I felt the film dropped off a little by turning into a post-action detective scenario, now that all the weapons had been taken out of the equation. But after Garber poked his head back- I lost it.

    I’ll have to disagree with a few folks here about the attitude towards women and people of color that the film portrays. I don’t believe a director would willingly put in something that doesn’t deserve attention unless it were for the sole purpose of exposition. The fact that working women were invoked as ‘part of the problem doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the director truly believes in. Just the opposite, I believe it reflects on the era it’s made in and helps bring it to light. Mr. Gray the womanizing racist scumbag of the group did all those things just so we could feel a sense of relief from his death– as if all those bad ideas died with him. We appreciate cunning and skill, but if its a scumbag with those traits- die in a fire Mr. Gray.

    The humor in the film was appropriate for the time and even now. This is New York City and people, especially in a film, have a cynical sense of humor. Often I’d equate Walter Matthau’s jokes up there with Leslie Nielsen from Airplane-type humor; but this film is much more dialed back for a more action feel.

    Before I wrap up though, I feel like there was a lot more opportunity to characterize the hostages and drive more suspense in the mystery cop- the guy that jumped out of the train was a loser with hardly any screen time prior.

    Great film, maybe I’ll watch the remake if I can get past John Travolta with a goatee. *shudders*

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