The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three ★★★½

This is a brisk, fast-paced hostage thriller about four men who hi-jack a New York City subway car to collect ransom for their hostages. Robert Shaw plays their ringleader, with Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, and Earl Hindman play the accomplices. The all-star cast also includes Walter Matthau as the lieutenant on duty with the NYC Transit Police and Lee Marvin as the hapless mayor.

The cat-and-mouse interplay between Matthau and Shaw anchors the movie and helps to overcome some of its more disparate elements There’s a bunch of plot lines that never quite payoff, for example, of a cop who gets caught hiding in the tunnel between the captured train and the nearest station. It seems like it’s going somewhere but just never seems to get there. It’s odd too that we don’t learn very much at all about any of the passengers who get taken hostage. Of course, this is the era of Airport and The Towering Inferno; I should be grateful the subway car isn’t filled with people like Ernest Borgnine or Shelley Winters and each of them have ridiculous Love Boat-style personal dramas about why they have to get wherever they’re going.

This movie doesn’t stoop to such things, which is all for the better. Still, it would help I think if we had just a little more investment in these people. We hear a lot about how one of them is an off-duty police officer but we don’t know which one. We do eventually find out, but it doesn’t pay off in any meaningful way. It seems like there were several subplots here that had at some point been cut down, and some threads remain. Those threads are clunky, but the decision to pare this down was a good one. Matthau and Shaw are all this movie needs, and it’s good when it keeps its focus on them. And that Matthau facial expression in the freeze-frame closing shot? Priceless.