Crime capers centred on hijackings are a dime a dozen, but whoever decides to hijack a subway train, given the seeming impossibility to escape from a hard-bound vehicle and out of an underground tunnel! That was the premise of Joseph Sargent’s taut, gritty and zeitgeisty The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which became an instant pop-culture icon. Such was its appeal, in fact, that trains originating at 1.23 pm from the Pelham station in Bronx – the rationale for the film’s title – weren’t scheduled for many years! The action kicked off when four code-named men – the crafty mastermind and former mercenary Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw); former train driver and reluctant criminal Mr. Green (Martin Balsam); the psychopathic Mr. Grey (Héctor Elizondo); and Mr. Brown – take control of a bogey that they detach from the train, hold its 18 passengers hostage, and demand a spectacular ransom of $1 million to be delivered within an hour. Veteran transit cop Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau) takes charge of the negotiations and initiates arrangement of the money – notwithstanding the hilarious bureaucracy that the city’s buffoonish Mayor embodies – while intent on nabbing the criminals. Buoyed by the superb jazz score by David Shire, the deadpan and chaotic interactions between and across the different groups – kidnappers, hostages, cops, subway personnel, politicos, administrators – provided for lively drama, while the city’s legendary, throbbing and subterranean subway system was a character in itself. The diverse working-class hostages, in turn, formed an interesting microcosm of the city itself. While the script overdid the humour at times, the proceedings could’ve been moodier and tenser, and the escape plan wasn’t ingenious enough, these didn’t undo the film’s entertainment quotient and cultural currency.
Director: Joseph Sargent
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller