It may have been remade in more recent times, but John Kreng says that the original thriller ‘The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3‘ remains on the right track from the start…
ASPECT RATIO: 2.35:1
DISTRIBUTOR: Kino Lorber
SRP: $29.95 Blu Ray/ $19.95 DVD
Four men (Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizando, and Earl Hindman) all dressed in similar hats, trench coats, glasses, mustaches, and armed with sub-machine guns hijack a New York City subway train. They are demanding $1 million dollars – which must be delivered in 1 hour, in exchange for the train and the lives of the passengers held hostage. Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) of the New York City Transit Police must contend with City Hall red tape, the unrelenting demands of the hijackers and the ever-ticking clock in effort to save the passengers and bring the hijackers to justice.
When film historians talk about movies in the 1970s that feature the urban decay and grittiness of New York City, they typically mention The French Connection, Taxi Driver, Death Wish, Shaft, The Warriors, Midnight Cowboy and Saturday Night Fever. A film that should be included into that list is the original The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. All the characters in the movie reflect the angst and resilience of NYC at the time. To celebrate the pre-gentrification of NYC and the Grindhouse theaters on 42nd St. near Times Square (aka The Deuce), Kino-Lorber decided to release a 42nd Anniversary edition of this classic film.
The 1974 film, based on a novel (of the same name) by John Godey, spawned two remakes in 1998 and 2009 but the original still holds its own to this day. The summary of the story above does not do the film any justice. It’s the ‘cat and mouse’ play that goes back and forth between Matthau and Shaw, accompanied by the gallows humor and great colorful performances by all the actors involved that makes this taut action-thriller a classic. The film was well directed by Joseph Sargent, accompanied by great cinematography from Owen Roizman (The French Connection), editing by Gerald Greenberg (Apocalypse Now) and Robert Q. Lovett (A Bronx Tale), and a great score by David Shire (All the President’s Men), to help add to the tension.
What makes this different than other hijack/disaster movies of today are the heroes do not solve the crime in an outrageous superhero comic-book like fashion. In this film, the characters are everyday people, forced into insurmountable situations, where political correctness does not exist (with the heroes nor the villains), while every character is colorful and unique and is not wasted.
I’m assuming a lot of Millenial / Generation-Y readers are thinking, “That frumpy old curmudgeon who starred in ‘Grumpy Old Men’… starring in an action film…Really?” The early 70s, was a time when “a harsher realism” was brought more into American movies, so it wasn’t surprising to see ordinary guys like Gene Hackman (The French Connection), Robert Duvall (Badge 373), and Dustin Hoffman (Little Big Man, Straw Dogs) star in higher budgeted action films at that time. Add Walter Matthau to that list with action films during that time like Charley Varrick, The Laughing Policeman and this gem I’m reviewing. Matthau adds his own unique trademark acting skills and facial expressions, Lt. Garber, the everyday hero: very compelling and believable.
The Special Features on this release include…
- Audio commentary by actor Pat Healy and film historian Jim Healy – these guys really know the history of this film and talk in detail about the making of the film, the influence it has on future action films like Die Hard and Speed and the differences between the novel and the film. No fill or fluff here. Just interesting facts throughout the whole film with no gaps.
- Interview with Hector Elizondo (12:01 HD) – Elizondo talks about the difference between NYC today and the 70s when the film was shot, how he auditioned and got the job, his relationships with all the actors and the director while shooting the film.
- Interview with Composter David Shire (9:06 HD) – David Shire talks about the process of creating the now renowned soundtrack for the film.
- Interview with Editor Gerald Greenberg (9:08 HD) – Greenberg talks about the issues that came about when making the film and how they were solved in the editing room.
- Trailers from Hell – Screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence) talks about why he loves this movie as the trailer plays.
- Animated montage of stills and posters – shows a series of B&W stills and posters while playing to David Shire’s theme song.
- Original theatrical trailer (remastered)
The folks at Kino-Lorber did a great job is restoring this film and putting together the special features package that will educate interested viewers about the film. There are no sound tics, film dirt, or scratches, but there is some minor film grain, which is understandable for a movie this old. This is probably the closest quality you will probably get to seeing this film on its first screening on opening day. The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 is a suspense filled thrill ride that takes viewers back to when NYC and their citizens had a uniquely edgy personality.
The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 42nd Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray) is released by Kino-Lorber in Region 1/US format and is available now…