Joseph Sargent’s action thriller is one of the best New York centered works of cinema ever produced. “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” has maintained its powerful suspense and wonderful sense of humor forty two years after its release. It works so well thanks to its very diverse cast, all of whom offer up a very unique variety that works in favor of the film. You wouldn’t think Walter Matthau would be a solid protagonist in such a stern action film, but Matthau holds his own against the vicious and cold turns by Robert Shaw and Hector Elizondo.
Set over the course of one Summer day in New York City, four armed gunmen wearing disguises enter a 6 train headed Downtown. With the codenames Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown, the four men are picked up t various stops and proceed to take the train hostage. Packed with loaded submachine guns, they seize the train filled with seventeen passengers, and pack them in to one cart, taking control of the lone cart. Matthau plays Lieutenant Zachary Garber, a New York Transit Authority officer who is contacted by the leader Mr. Blue that they’ve taken the train hostage and are demanding a million dollars within one hour.
The catch is after an hour if the money fails to show up, they will begin murdering passengers every minute after. Robert Shaw is a scene stealer as the dead set and cold killer Blue, who makes it his mission to show how relentless he is, and how much control he holds over every element of the situation. Shaw works beautifully off of co-star Hector Elizondo as Grey, who is the group’s resident hot head, and begins clashing with Blue when he finds he isn’t working up to his satisfaction. Along the way there are a slew of interesting plot twists and dramatic turns, including the mention of an undercover officer hidden on the train among the passengers.
As well there’s the city working to come up with a million dollars before Blue begins murdering passengers left and right. Sargent’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is an absolute masterpiece; it’s briskly paced and kept on high energy, allowing a sense of urgency that will keep you hoping for the best, despite teeth clenching obstacles occasionally introducing themselves. Despite its real time narrative and fast pace, Sargent draws some truly engaging characters both heroes and villains alike, making the film a work of substance and an exciting experience.