The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 film).jpg
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
Starring Walter Matthau
Robert Shaw
Martin Balsam
Héctor Elizondo
Music by David Shire
Cinematography Owen Roizman
Edited by Gerald B. Greenberg
Robert Q. Lovett
Palomar Pictures
Palladium Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
October 2, 1974
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million[1]
Box office $18.7 million[1]

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (also known as The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3) 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.[2] Peter Stone adapted the screenplay[2] from the 1973 novel of the same name written by Morton Freedgood under the pen name John Godey.

The film received critical acclaim and holds a rating of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 35 reviews. Several critics called it one of 1974's finest films and it was a box office success.[3] As in the novel, the film follows a group of criminals taking the passengers hostage inside a New York City Subway car for ransom. Musically, it features "one of the best and most inventive thriller scores of the 1970s".[4] It was remade in 1998 as a television film and was again remade in 2009 as a theatrical film.


On the New York City Subway, four men armed with sub-machine guns, wearing similar disguises and using code names (Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey and Mr. Brown) board a downtown (southbound) 6 train at different station stops. The men take 17 passengers (one happens to be an undercover police officer) and the conductor hostage in the first car and leave the rest of the train behind.

Zachary Garber, a curmudgeonly New York Transit Authority Police lieutenant, is leading a tour of the subway command center when it is interrupted by Mr. Blue's radio announcement that "your train has been taken". Blue, the leader of the hijackers, reveals their demand for $1 million (2018 equivalent: $5 million) to be delivered within one hour or they will kill one passenger per minute after that.

Garber, his co-worker, Lieutenant Rico Patrone and other transit workers cooperate while trying to guess how the criminals intend to get away. Garber deduces that one of the hijackers, knows how to operate the train and is probably a disgruntled former transit employee. Garber also notices that Blue has a British accent, while Green has a severe cold that causes him to sneeze loudly several times throughout the ordeal, to which he responds each time with a polite "Gesundheit".

The supervisor at Grand Central Tower goes to confront the hijackers but is quickly shot by Mr. Grey. Conversations between the hijackers reveal that Mr. Blue was a mercenary in Africa and Mr. Green was a motorman caught in a drug bust. There is tension between Blue and Grey; Blue confides to Green that he believes Grey is "mad" and potential trouble.

Hoping to sway more voters in his favor in the upcoming election, the Mayor agrees to pay the ransom but Blue insists on his one-hour deadline. After the Federal Reserve Bank of New York prepares the money, the police dispatch a squad car, but it crashes before it can reach the station. Garber bluffs to buy time, telling the hijackers that the money has already been delivered to the tunnel and just has to be walked to the train. Blue accepts this and doesn't kill any more hostages. Minutes later, a police motorcycle arrives with the ransom and it is delivered on down the tunnel on foot by two patrolmen. During the tense wait for the money, a police officer in the subway tunnel exchanges gunfire with the hijackers. In retaliation, Blue kills the conductor.

With money in hand, Blue gives Garber their next orders: that electric power be restored to the subway line, that all signals in the path of the train be set to green all the way to South Ferry, and all police officers be cleared from the tunnel. Garber says it will take time to move all other trains out of the way, which Blue accepts. Before the process is complete, the hijackers move the train forward a few blocks. Blue says this is in case there are still police in the tunnel.

When Garber says the signals are clear, the hijackers use a device to override the dead-man's switch so that the train will run with no one on board, then they set the train in motion and get off. As the one-car train starts to move, the undercover officer jumps off and hides in the tunnel. Unaware that the hijackers have jumped off the train, the police follow it as the hijackers try to make their escape using the tunnel's emergency exit.

While disposing of their disguises and evidence that can tie them to the crime, Grey refuses to leave his gun behind, resulting in a stand-off with Blue, who shoots him dead. While Blue and Green take Grey's share of the money, the undercover officer shoots and kills Brown. Green escapes onto the street, while Blue exchanges fire with the officer until he wounds him.

Garber follows the runaway train above ground in a police car with NYPD Inspector Daniels, until he realizes that the hijackers must have defeated the dead-man's switch and returns to where the train stopped. Before Blue can kill the wounded officer, Garber confronts him. Blue seemingly surrenders but upon being told that New York no longer has the death penalty, Blue commits suicide by stepping onto the third rail. As the runaway car enters the loop at South Ferry Station leading back uptown, the train's excessive speed activates the automatic safeties built into the system to stop cars travelling too fast and the car slows to a stop, leaving the remaining hostages unharmed.

The three dead hijackers are identified; none was ever a transit employee. Garber concludes that the remaining hijacker must be the one. Working their way through a list of former motormen "discharged for cause", Garber and Patrone pay a visit to Harold Longman, knocking on his door just as he is reveling in his share of the ransom money. After hastily hiding the money, Longman lets them in and then bluffs his way through their questioning. As they are leaving he delays their departure by complaining indignantly about being suspected. With him and Patrone standing in the hall, Garber apologizes and then finally turns and begins to close the front door behind them. Just then, Longman sneezes, eliciting another polite "gesundheit" from Garber as the door closes. A moment later, Garber re-opens the door giving Longman an accusing stare.



Filming locations[edit]

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, now the New York Transit Museum. A reconstruction of a Transit Authority control center was built on a soundstage.[citation needed]

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 Metropolitan Transportation Authority was reluctant to cooperate with the making of the film as they feared a real hijacking could occur, but after further talks, they cooperated with the filmmakers. First, they required payment of hijack insurance as well as a payment of $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.[citation needed]


The Jerry Fielding and Don Ellis sounding score, composed and conducted by David Shire, "layers explosive horn arrangements and serpentine keyboard riffs over a rhythm section that pits hard-grooving basslines against constantly shifting but always insistent layers of percussion".[4] Shire used the 12-tone composition method to create unusual, somewhat dissonant melodic elements.[5] The soundtrack album was the first CD release by Film Score Monthly, and was later released by Retrograde Records.[5] 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.[6]


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.[citation needed] Realizing that it would become too much of a reminder to the public after the film was released, the New York City Transit Authority for many years banned any train leaving Pelham Bay Park station at 1:23. Eventually this policy was rescinded but the dispatchers have generally avoided scheduling a Pelham train at 1:23.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

The film was well received by critics. Roger Ebert's contemporary review gave the film 3 out of a possible 4 stars. He praised the film's "unforced realism", and the supporting characters who elevated what could have been a predictable crime thriller: "we care about the people not the plot mechanics. And what could have been formula trash turns out to be fairly classy trash, after all." The film holds a 100% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 35 critics.[8]


BAFTA Awards
Writers Guild of America Award
  • 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Another remake set in a post 9/11 New York City directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, was released in 2009 to mixed reviews.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 8 March 2018. 
  2. ^ a b "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  3. ^ Godey, John (1974). The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1st ed.). New York City: Dell Books. ASIN B000G9YM1S. ISBN 978-0440184959. 
  4. ^ a b "Taking of Pellham 123". Allmusic. 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)". Film Score Monthly. 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  6. ^ Adams, Doug. CD liner notes
  7. ^ Dwyer, Jim (1991). Subway lives : 24 hours in the life of the New York City subway (1st ed.). New York City: Crown Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-0517584453. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 2, 1974). "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved May 31, 2017. 
  9. ^ "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 

External links[edit]