The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 film)
|The Taking of Pelham One Two Three|
Original film poster by Mort Künstler
|Directed by||Joseph Sargent|
|Produced by||Edgar J. Scherick|
|Screenplay by||Peter Stone|
|Based on||The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
by John Godey
|Music by||David Shire|
|Editing by||Gerald B. Greenberg
Robert Q. Lovett
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Release date(s)||October 2, 1974|
|Running time||104 minutes|
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, also known as The Taking of Pelham 123, is a 1974 American thriller film directed by Joseph Sargent, produced by Edgar J. Scherick, and starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Héctor Elizondo. Peter Stone adapted the screenplay, from the novel of the same name by Morton Freedgood (under the pen name John Godey) about a group of criminals taking hostage for ransom the passengers of a busy New York City subway car.
In New York City, four heavily armed men with code names (Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown), wearing similar trenchcoat, glasses and mustache disguises, board at different station stops (Green at 59th Street, Grey at 51st Street, Brown at Grand Central, and finally Blue at 28th Street) on the Pelham 123 subway train run of the 6 Lexington Avenue Local service. The men take the train, securing a group of seventeen passengers whom they hold hostage, isolating them in one of the train's cars and then separating the car from the rest of the train.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau), a cynical and curmudgeonly yet light-hearted New York City Transit Authority police lieutenant, begins his day by leading four visiting Tokyo Metro directors on a tour of New York's subway command-center. This is interrupted by Blue's radio announcement to the command center that "your train has been taken." Blue (Robert Shaw), the English-accented leader of the hijackers, tells Garber they are demanding a ransom of one million dollars, to be delivered to them within one hour; otherwise they will kill one passenger per minute, starting when the hour has passed.
Garber, the sarcastic Lieutenant Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller), and other transit workers cooperate while trying to guess how the criminals intend to escape the subway tunnel and get away. A supervisor at Grand Central takes matters into his own hands and decides to confront the hijackers personally. As he approaches the train, Grey (Hector Elizondo) warns him to back off but he refuses, so Grey shoots him dead. Various clues soon surface for Garber to figure out, first with his hearing of Blue's very distinctive English accent over the radio. It later turns out that Blue was a ruthless British mercenary, and Green (Martin Balsam) is a former transit worker who from time to time sneezes over the radio and is heard by Garber, who responds by saying "Gesundheit." Garber also learns that one of the hostages is an undercover police officer.
The mayor finally agrees to pay the ransom at the urging of his deputy mayor and his wife ("But just think what you'll get in return... Eighteen sure votes.") During the tense wait, an armed police officer in the tunnel shoots at Brown (Earl Hindman), and hijackers and police exchange fire. In retaliation, Blue kills the conductor. The police dispatch a squad car carrying the ransom money. When the car is wrecked in a collision, Garber daringly bluffs to buy some time, telling the hijackers that the money already has been delivered to the 28th Street Station and only the walk down the tunnel is delaying it. A reluctant Blue agrees to the delay.
A police motorcycle completes the trip from the scene of the collision to the subway station and two unarmed officers are sent down the track on foot to deliver the money to the hijackers. With the money finally in hand, the hijackers demand that electric power be restored to the subway line, and that all signals in the path of the train be turned green from 28th Street to South Ferry, both of these being necessary for the car to move. Having overridden the subway car's dead-man's switch, which would otherwise ensure its stopping unless someone remained at the throttle, the hijackers get off the train and set it in motion. As the train starts to move, the undercover officer also jumps off the train and hides between the rails. The car begins to travel faster and faster, since no one is controlling its speed.
Outside the tunnel, Garber and Inspector Daniels are convinced that the runaway train is a diversion and that the hijackers must have left the train.
The hijackers divide the ransom money, discard their disguises, and start their escape into the tunnel's emergency exit; however, Grey refuses to leave his gun behind as agreed and is shot dead by Blue. The undercover officer, still hiding in the tracks, manages to kill Brown with one shot. Green escapes onto the street, while Blue shoots at the undercover officer until he wounds him.
Garber arrives after Green has gotten away and, drawing on Blue, orders him to surrender just as Blue is about to shoot the undercover officer dead. Blue asks Garber if the death penalty is available in the state of New York anymore. Told that it is not, Blue responds, "Pity", then promptly electrocutes himself by stepping onto the third rail while a horrified Garber watches.
Entering the South Ferry Loop, the runaway car finally encounters a red signal. The car's emergency brakes are tripped and it grinds to a halt; the remaining hostages are all safe.
With three of the hijackers dead, information is brought up on their identities. None of the three are found to have any experience piloting trains. Green, the only hijacker to escape, has left as a clue only Garber's surmise that one of the hijackers must be an ex-motorman of the New York Transit Authority (owing to the hijackers' knowledge of the car's operation). With the dead three all identified, Garber realizes that the hijacker still at large must be the former transit employee. Garber and Patrone, working their way through a list of former motormen "discharged for cause" (and, by implication, disgruntled), pay a visit to Harold Longman. Longman—known to the audience as Mr. Green—is shown rolling in the packs of ransom money on the bed in his seedy efficiency apartment when Garber and Patrone knock on his door. He hides the money quickly, then opens to the officers and bluffs his way through their questioning. The officers find Longman's alibi weak, but start out the door, until Longman sneezes and Garber says "Gesundheit." Garber then re-opens the door, the expression on his face indicating that he knows he has just found the final hijacker.
Portions of the scenes in the tunnel were filmed on the local tracks of the IND Fulton Street Line at the abandoned Court Street station in Brooklyn, which now serves as a track which links to the New York City Transit Museum. A reconstruction of a Transit Authority control center was built on a soundstage.
The exterior NYC 'Command Post Center' street scenes shot above the subway train during the cash negotiation scenes, where throngs of police and spectators gathered awaiting the ransom money, were filmed at the subway exit corner of 28th and Park Avenue South in Manhattan. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority almost didn't cooperate with the making of this movie as they feared a real hijacking could go down, but after further talks, they did work with the filmmakers. First, they required payment of hijack insurance followed by paying $250,000 for usage of the subway. Another person who was involved was Mayor John Lindsay: he green lighted the shooting of the film in New York, though some Canadian passages were done as well.
The Jerry Fielding-ish score was composed and conducted by David Shire. The soundtrack album was the first CD release by Film Score Monthly, and was later released by Retrograde Records. The end titles contain a more expansive arrangement of the theme, courtesy of Shire's wife at the time, Talia Shire, who suggested that he end the score with a more traditional ode to New York.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was released on October 2, 1974. It grossed $16,550,000 at the box office and was filmed with a $5,000,000 budget. Realizing that it would become too much of a reminder to the public after this movie was released, the New York City Transit Authority for many years banned any train leaving Pelham station at 1:23. Eventually this policy was rescinded but the dispatchers have generally avoided scheduling a Pelham train at 1:23.
Awards and honors 
- 1976: Nominated, "Best Film Music"—David Shire
- 1976: Nominated, "Best Supporting Actor"—Martin Balsam
- 1975: Nominated, "Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium"—Peter Stone
In 1998, the film was remade as a television film with the same title, with Edward James Olmos in the Matthau role and Vincent D'Onofrio replacing Shaw as the senior hijacker. Although not particularly well received by critics or viewers, this version was reportedly more faithful to the book, though it revised the setting with new technologies.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 film)|
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three at the Internet Movie Database
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 film) at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three at the TCM Movie Database
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three at AllRovi