The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 film)

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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
Hector 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 dates
October 2, 1974
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (aka 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. Peter Stone adapted the screenplay from the 1973 novel of the same name, written 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. Musically, it features "one of the best and most inventive thriller scores of the 1970s".[1] It was remade in 1998 as a television movie and was again remade in 2009 as a film.


In New York City, four men armed with submachine guns and using code names (Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown), wearing similar trenchcoat, glasses and mustache disguises, board the Pelham 123 subway train at different station stops. The men take hostage seventeen passengers and the conductor, isolate them in the train's first car and then separate 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, is leading a tour of New York's subway command center when it is interrupted by Blue's radio announcement that "your train has been taken". Blue (Robert Shaw), the leader of the hijackers, reveals their demands: a ransom of $1 million, to be delivered within one hour, else they will kill one passenger per minute after that.

Garber, the sarcastic Lieutenant Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller), and other transit workers cooperate while trying to guess how the criminals intend to get away. The supervisor at Grand Central decides to confront the hijackers himself. As he approaches the train, Grey (Hector Elizondo) shoots him dead. Various clues surface for Garber: Blue has an English accent, while Green (Martin Balsam) has a cold and periodically sneezes over the radio, to which Garber says "Gesundheit." Garber surmises that as the hijackers are able to operate the train, one is probably a disgruntled transit worker. He also learns that one of the hostages is an undercover police officer.

The mayor finally agrees to pay the ransom. Conversations between the hijackers reveal that Blue was a mercenary in Africa and Green was a motorman caught in a drugs bust. There is also an undercurrent of tension between Blue and Grey; Blue confides to Green that he believes Grey is "mad" and potentially trouble. Garber requests additional time from Blue, believing that the process of gathering the money and transporting it to the train within the hour is practically impossible. Blue refuses to grant any extra time but eventually agrees to a slight change of the conditions of the deadline; the money must now at least reach the station nearest the train by the hour deadline rather than the train itself. During the tense wait for the money, a police officer exchanges gunfire with the hijackers. In retaliation, Blue kills the conductor. The police dispatch a squad car with the ransom money, but it crashes. Garber daringly bluffs to buy time, telling the hijackers that the money has been delivered, delayed only by the walk down the tunnel. A reluctant Blue agrees to wait.

A police motorcycle delivers the ransom, and it is delivered on foot. With the money finally in hand, Blue gives Garber their next demands: that electric power be restored to the subway line, that all signals in the path of the train be set to green, and all police officers be cleared from the tunnel. Having overridden the train's dead-man's switch, a safety device requiring a motorman to continually press down on the throttle or else the train will stop, the hijackers get off the train and set it in motion. As the train starts to move, the undercover officer jumps off and hides. The car begins to travel faster and faster, as no one is controlling its speed.

While following the runaway train above ground, Garber becomes convinced that it is a diversion and that the hijackers must have left it. In the tunnel, the hijackers begin their escape into the emergency exit; however, Grey refuses to leave his gun behind, resulting in a stand-off with Blue, who shoots him dead. The undercover officer manages to kill Brown with one shot. Green escapes onto the street, while Blue shoots at the officer until he wounds him. Garber arrives and, drawing on Blue, orders him to surrender. Told that New York no longer has the death penalty, Blue electrocutes himself by stepping onto the third rail. Meanwhile, the runaway car finally encounters a red signal and grinds to a halt; the remaining hostages are safe.

The three dead hijackers are identified, and it is clear that none had piloted trains, so the remaining hijacker must be the former transit employee. Working their way through a list of former motormen "discharged for cause", Garber and Patrone pay a visit to Harold Longman (Green), who bluffs his way through the officers' questioning. The officers find Longman's alibi weak, but start out the door, until Longman sneezes and Garber says "Gesundheit." Garber re-opens the door, and his expression indicates that he has 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.[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 New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority was reluctant to cooperate with the making of this movie as they feared a real hijacking could occur, but after further talks, they did work 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".[1] Shire used the 12-tone composition method to create unusual, somewhat dissonant melodic elements.[2] The soundtrack album was the first CD release by Film Score Monthly, and was later released by Retrograde Records.[2] 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.[3]


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 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.[4]

The film was well received by critics; Rotten Tomatoes records a 100% positive reception from 32 reviews.[5] Roger Ebert's contemporary review gave the film 3 out of a possible 4 stars. He praised the film's "unforced realism" in the lead, and the supporting characters that elevated what could have been a predictable crime thriller.[6]

Awards and honors[edit]

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.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Taking of Pellham 123". Allmusic. 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)". Film Score Monthly. 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  3. ^ Adams, Doug. CD liner notes
  4. ^ Dwyer, Jim, "Subway lives : 24 hours in the life of the New York City subway", Crown, 1991, ISBN 0-517-58445-X
  5. ^ "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 

External links[edit]