Sunday, June 14, 2009

181) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

181) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Dir: Joseph Sargent Date Released: June 14th, 2009 Rating: 4/5

Spike Lee's Inside Man owes a great deal to director Joseph Sargent's adaptation of John Godey's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. While Lee's film capitalizes on the concept that ethnic difference is that much more salient in post 9/11 New York City, Sargent's film wisely insists that that was always the case. Characters with accents, whether it's Robert Shaw's hostage-taker, the little old Jewish hostage or Walter Matthau's transit police officer, do almost all of the film's real talking. Pelham in that sense is that much more refreshing because it does not use his knowing view of the city as ethnic stew to mark its territory.

At the same time, the city the film is set in isn't really important. What's most compelling about The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is its rapt attention to the case's procedurial plot, not the embellishing contextual details. The constant interchange between Matthau and Shaw and everyone in between with access to a microphone is riveting because it's just one long game of tennis: constant motion is the trick. The conversation has to keep the hostage situation moving toward its resolution no matter what, a very workmanlike approach and a very effective one, too.


  1. Didn't see the original, but Tony Scott's remake throws religion into the mix, too, playing heavily on the concept of Catholic guilt as a self-fulfilling prophecy of obliteration and death. Scott is not at all concerned with the hostages, and thus very much in cahoots with the abductor (the hostages in his PELHAM are a ruly, unindividualized crowd, not alive enough even to go into hysteria).

  2. Hm; that makes me worried. Now I'm less interested than ever in Scott's version. THANKS A LOT, MICHAL.