On Oct. 2, 1974, the R-rated, 105-minute thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three debuted in theaters with a plot that was “perfect for the national obsession with disaster.” The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
With a clear conception of contemporary values, Joseph Sargent has directed the best of the multiple jeopardy pictures to date. This co-presentation of Palomar Pictures and Palladium Productions, produced by Edgar J. Scherick and Gabriel Katzka, is sure-fire entertainment, gripping, exciting and humanly funny from beginning to end.
Peter Stone has adapted John Godey’s compelling novel about the hijacking of a New York subway train for a million-dollar ransom into a many charactered screenplay highlighted by arch New Yorker survival dialogue.
The premise and setting are perfect for the national obsession with disaster. New Yorkers, packed together closer than any other people and living under the constant threat of municipal breakdown, have evolved a defensive, resigned sense of humor that unifies their plight.
The logical pitfall of multiple jeopardy pictures lies not so much in the plotting as in the characterization. The story pretty much takes care of itself, but the description of characters, which must necessarily be brief, can easily fall into stereotypes.
Sargent’s accomplishment is in his deft establishment of interesting, full-dimensioned characters, described in a single gesture or line of dialogue, without slowing down the story.
Sargent’s straightforward action direction and the skilled juggling of editors Gerald Greenberg and Robert Q. Lovett keep the pitch of excitement high and constantly in motion.
The large, well-characterized cast is ably headed by Walter Matthau, whose wonderfully weary sense of irony is perfect for the head of the Transit Authority police, who ad libs wry jokes to the hijackers in the process of activating or stalling their demands.
The hijackers, all sporting the same style fake mustaches, are played by Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman. They are described more in terms of amused pathos than evil.
Lee Wallace scores the biggest laughs as the mayor of New York who doesn’t want to appear in public because the people always boo him. Tom Pedi plays a headstrong transit official who walks straight into danger and gets machine-gunned down for his unrealistic appraisal of the situation.
Among the many fine smaller roles are Jerry Stiller as Matthau’s sidekick, James Broderick as the train conductor, Nathan George as a patrolman and Julius Harris as the police inspector.
Owen Roizman contributed solid, practical photography under challenging location conditions. Gene Rudolf’s transit authority is an authentically organized physical layout. The sensibly deployed music of David Snire keeps visceral excitement high, as does the charged level of mixer Chris Newman’s sound. — John H. Dorr