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. As in the novel, the film centers on 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”. It was remade in 1998 as a television film and was again remade in 2009 as a film.
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.
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 this movie 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
Filled with exciting moments and heart-pounding suspense.
Sharp and fast-paced thriller that follows an easy-going N.Y.C. transit cop (Walter Matthau) who’s forced to out-match the wits of four well-armed gunmen and their resilient leader (Robert Shaw) who are holding eighteen passengers on a subway train and demand one million dollars within the hour.
Made in the era of smart, stylish, and ingenius thrillers (’70s), this film didn’t fail to loose my attention at all. In addition to Matthau and Shaw, the supporting cast (Hector Elizondo, Martin Balsam, Jerry Stiller, Tony Roberts, and so forth) is are just as excellent as the two unflappable leads. This well-polished crime movie is filled with exciting moments and heart-pounding suspense. Plus, there are some quirky one-liners thrown into the story as well.
My favorite crime drama of the ’70s. Maybe ever.
Author: Greg (GregCnAZ@aol.com) from Phoenix, AZ U.S.A
5 February 2004
With all the other plot summaries written here, I won’t go into what this film is all about. I just want to say that I don’t believe this genre has been done better, either before or since. I first saw “Pelham 1,2,3” when I was 14 at a drive-in theater in Northern CA. It holds a memorable place for me as the first R rated movie I ever saw, as well as the first time I ever heard the “F” word in a movie. But way beyond that, I was so completely sucked into the story even at my young age. Now all these years later, I still am. I own the movie and must see it periodically. I’m so glad, reading all the other user comments, to find that I’m just one of many who absolutely love this film. Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and the rest of the cast are all brilliant. The comedy in the film is also outstanding and never out of place within the storyline. It simply serves to make the film more realistic. And last but not least, David Shire’s score is the coolest. I only wish they had put a soundtrack out for this film. When I watch this movie, the music must be cranked.
Don’t bother catching this film on TV. It’s always completely hacked up. Rent it or buy the DVD. It will remind you just how much fun movies used to be.
Much imitated, never bettered.
Author: jckruize from North Hemis
21 October 2002
Modern tough-guy filmmakers like Quentin Tarentino acknowledge their debt to this pedal-to-the-metal thriller, directed by Joseph Sargent from John Godey’s bestseller. Walter Matthau is a hoot as the savvy NY transit cop who’s smarter than he looks, well-matched by Robert Shaw as the icy mercenary whose gang has hijacked a subway car for a one-million-dollar ransom.
This film’s been imitated so often because its makers were really at the top of their game. Owen Roizman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION) handled the gritty location photography; scripter Peter Stone contributed terse, funny dialogue; scene-stealers like Martin Balsam, Jerry Stiller, Dick O’Neill and others made their roles indelible; and David Shire’s percussive score set a standard for the genre.
The ending is classic. When you have Matthau as your star, this is how to end your movie.
“Pelham 1-2-3 is in motion”
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
28 May 2007
One of my favorite films from the seventies is The Taking of Pelham One, Two Three because it’s so New York. Of course the film was shot entirely on location in The Big Apple including the interiors which helped greatly. But more than that, the characters have all the New York flavor about them with one exception.
The cat of course is led by Walter Matthau who plays a Transit Police Lieutenant. His character is a kind of combination of Archie Bunker and Detective Lennie Briscoe from Law and Order, in many ways not terribly admirable. He’s also a transit cop and at that time the Transit Police were a separate entity. They were merged into the regular NYPD during the Giuliani administration.
There’s no real glory in the Transit Police, these guys were mostly charged with dealing with drunks and kids with loud boom boxes. If a homicide ever occurred the NYPD quickly took it over as they would in most situations. But this ongoing crisis on a train on the Lexington Avenue Local occurs on his watch and it’s career make or break case that Matthau is very aware of. And he proves fully capable during the crisis.
The crisis is four men, Robert Shaw, Earl Hindman, Hector Elizondo, and Martin Balsam mount a carefully planned assault on a subway train out of Pelham Bay station in the Bronx in mid-Manhattan and hold it and the passengers for ransom for a million dollars. The outsider to New York is Robert Shaw in one of his best roles, a former British army officer and mercenary. During the course of the robbery they kill a station supervisor played by roly poly Tom Pedi, one very quintessential New Yorker and their coldblooded villainy is established.
In fact the whole cast is a microcosm of the ethnic strains of New York City which makes the film so enjoyable, especially to one who lived there, the first 49 years of his life. Even the mayor is portrayed as a weak, fumbling nonentity and back then our mayor was one Abraham D. Beame who was just that, probably one of the worst mayors the city ever had. Tony Roberts has a very good role as the tough as nails Deputy Mayor concerned about both his boss’s political career and resolving the crisis.
Author: Henry Willis from Los Angeles
9 September 2003
Other reviewers have said enough about this wonderful witty heist movie that surprised me every step of the way with how good it was. Two things bother me about this movie, however.
First, why did they only ask for $1,000,000? I know that things were cheaper then–I was a productive member of society, sort of, at the time–but even so, $250,000 a pop seems like too little reward for all the time and risk they invested in their plan. Even one of the passengers held hostage thought it wasn’t enough–why didn’t that occur to the merc or the wise guy?
Second, how did the makers of this movie know that Ed Koch was going to be mayor of New York? It was 1974 and Abe Beame–who would not have made an interesting character if you had put him in platform shoes and hot pants–was Mayor of New York, yet somehow the makers of this film got someone who looks and acts more like Koch than the Mayor in Ghostbusters. Eerier than crop circles