A Netflix Finds Review
There's very few things Robert Shaw ever did wrong, in my opinion. With iconic roles in A Man for All Seasons, The Deep, The Sting, and of course Jaws, Shaw solidified himself as the go to guy for the perfect villain or anti-hero. His Red Grant is still revered as one of the best Bond villains of all time in From Russia With Love and it's all with good reason. Shaw was so good at being so bad.
To look back on 2009 now, and see how John Travolta took Shaw's performance and tried to "improve" upon it, is quite absurd. The remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three wasn't a bad movie, it just wasn't a very good remake which naturally would draw comparisons. Like so many remakes, the original is far superior. Instead of the down trodden performance of Denzel Washington, we're treated with a typically comedic actor in Walter Matthau (Grumpy Old Men, The Odd Couple) sitting at the helm trying to talk Shaw out of his plan. It's a real treat to see two actors at the top of their game battle wits.
If you've seen the remake, there's not much difference here as far as story goes. It's truly a matter of preference. Do you prefer your madmen over the top and zany? Travolta pulls a Nicholas Cage in the remake, trying his best to reinvent the character, a common form of flattery in remakes. Shaw on the other hand, like he was in most of his films, maintains a very quiet madness as Mr. Blue. Still crazy, but completely in control. He's the quintessential antithesis to Matthau's Garber - the overworked control room operator who just wanted to go home.
As far as heist/highjacking films, Pelham ranks up with the best. It's a slow-burner, much like the subway train car they've highjacked, it builds momentum as things go on. Then, when you least expect it, it abruptly stops... then builds momentum again. Meanwhile the audience is strapped to their seat, waiting patiently for Matthau to burst from the tension that's mounted on him. You'll wait for it. You'll wait to Garber crack, because who wouldn't? You've got a train car highjacked. You've got a ransom of $1 million. You've got hostages. And as always, you've got your own gut feeling that you're going to fail, boiling inside you.
Pelham's influence on film reaches far. The names of all of the highjackers were replicated in Quentin Tarantino's excellent Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Any highjacking or runaway train film subsequently released would pale in comparison to Pelham. And it isn't even the story so much that's so captivating - it's a rather simple story, an action/thriller to get your blood rising. You'll watch it for the chemistry between Matthau and Shaw. It's a shame Shaw passed away a few years later, his performances were truly remarkable, and if you needed any further proof of that, Pelham is your ticket.
MPAA Rating: R.
Director: Joseph Sargent
Writer: Peter Stone
Cast: Walter Matthau; Robert Shaw; Martin Balsam; Hector Elizondo; James Broderick
Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
Tagline: Before this train reaches the next station it will become the scene of the most spectacular hijack ever attempted.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Yeah, well, that's the difference between you and me. I've always done my own killing."
Distributor: United Artists
Theatrical Release Date: October 2, 1974
Link to Netflix: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Synopsis: Deep in the bowels of New York City, a gang of men led by "Mr. Blue" (Robert Shaw) hijacks a subway car and radios the transit authority with a demand: Deliver $1 million in cash in the next hour, or they'll shoot one passenger each minute. Now, it's up to Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) to keep a cool head, secure the money and deliver the ransom before time runs out. Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman round out Mr. Blue's crew.