Sunday, August 07, 2011

"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974) - Movie Classics

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is that classic genre of thrilling films 70s and 80s were good at producing out. The characters in it are restless, casual and a charm that exhibits a characteristic of being both put up and natural. They had that going for him until the CGI took over the industry and brought this genre to its knees. That is the reason maybe when I watched “Payback” with my brother, it seemed nostalgic or more so original. Seeing this film draws me back to those films despite the minimal quantity of movies I have seen from this time.

Having seen the remade version of this with Tony Scott’s fast editing going through Denzel Washington and John Travolta having fun in playing these characters in the modern world of mediocrity, the original seemed fresher. This indeed is a methodical and cold nature in which a group of men led by a menacing Englishman Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) takes over the subway train Pelham One Two Three. This addressing of Mr. Blue later became Tarantino’s homage in his earlier film “Reservoir Dogs”. On a regular busy day in New York train network arrives these men and board at different points and take over the train. They corner themselves up and as much as we know that there is a plan of getaway from this trap, we are curious as to how.

Walter Matthau is Lt. Zachary Gerber giving tour to Tokyo Metro directors on the station they are successfully running. Gerber is everyday man, dreading the presence of foreigners at the same time courteous to show them around with cynicism and sarcasm. His colleagues are panicking on the situation they got into when Gerber gets into the mix with quick response. There are no dramatic back ground to accentuate the situation nor does there are crazy run around in the nerve center in head quarters. People panic but naturally and Gerber responds in a hurried calm fashion. He seem to have got the rhythm of Mr. Blue and vice versa that they both acclimatize quickly and begin the negotiation. Mr. Blue is on the upper hand. He has hostages and he needs money and he needs it immediately. He promises to kill one passenger per minute delay in the arrival of the money and he is damn serious about it.

The movie works with a pace creeping into the screen with conspicuously. Gerber communicates back and forth with the fellow Lieutenant Garber (Jerry Stiller) on the happenings outside and then to Mr. Blue. Directed by Joseph Sargent, the film takes the story outside of the train and command center onto the politics and the NYPD involved in the mix. The Mayor (Lee Wallace) who is being manipulated, bullied and nearly man handled by a strong and powerful Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) though he seem to be the man of making decisions. The desperate attempt of the policeman riding with the ransom money going through the busy streets of the city shown with a serious urgency and sudden vanishing of emotion in that whole scene. These are few of side plots that gets the film a tone and voice that is missing so much in the thriller genre involving action, pace and intelligence in current days.

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is precise in its presentation and utterly serious about the stakes involved. Do not be fooled by the lack of back ground score or obvious dramatization because Mr. Blue is capable of anything and we see him when he executes with chilling clinical nature. Then again he is annoyed when a killing is done unnecessarily. For him there needs to be a purpose for an action and it should facilitate getting a point or to a means to the end, that includes killing. This surgical nature makes him a terror to the hostages around which brings to the hostages who behave, act and react to the situation calm followed by panic, confusion and eventually to submission.

The smartness of Gerber comes at the juncture when it matters. There is no way out when Mr. Blue places his demands and has the situation completely under his control. Gerber waits for the opportunity though he does not make it know. It is his nature and the instinct which kicks when he tackles the situation of money coming late to the station. He acts and saves lives with a flick of a switch. Dealt with a sincere film making, “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is the classic the genre deserves. Films like this “Marathon Man” and “Three Days of Condor” reminds me how thriller was once upon a time.

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