Saturday, June 6, 2009

Give Me That Old Time Movie: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The late, great film director John Huston once suggested that film makers remake film failures rather than successful films.

But of course most film makers want to bank on the original film's success, so that rarely happens.

Having read news accounts of the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, I was curious to see the original film again. Thankfully, Comcast Cable TV is showing the classic crime thriller.

I loved the film back in 1974 and I enjoyed the film the second time around as well. The film's plot involves the hyjacking of a New York City subway train. The late, great Robert Shaw is a ruthless British mercenary between African coups, so he and his criminal crew take over the train with automatic weapons.

Shaw codenames his crew Misters Blue, Green, Gray and Brown. Shaw's crew consists of Hector Elizondo, a killer so crazy they kicked him out of the mob, Martin Balsam, a former subway motorman fired for transporting drugs, and another actor whose name I fail to remember, who appears to be a nice guy - if he were not a criminal and a killer.

The late, great Walther Matthau portrays a transit police lieutenant who communicates with Shaw via the transit authority's radio throughout most of the film.

Matthau's character is a calm and caring, yet cynical, and world-weary police officer. Matthau's character is in wonderful contrast with the cold-hearted, larcenous Shaw character.

But what truly makes this film work is the many first-class character actors playing smaller parts, like Jerry Stiller, who plays a typically jaded transit cop. There are at least half a dozen other great, smaller roles of rough, rude and blunt New Yorkers. This is a crime thriller, but it is also a very funny film.

I liked the scenes between the unpopular mayor up for re-election, his wife, and his deputy mayor. They, along with the police chief, the transit chief and the city's comptroller, come together to decide if they will pay the one million dollar ransom for the 18 hostages and the subway car the crooks separated from the train.

Tony Scott's remake, to be called The Taking of Pelham 123, comes out his month. Denzel Washington, who is playing the Matthau role, is a fine actor, and John Travolta, who can be a fine actor, but often is not, is portraying the Shaw role.

I doubt that this film will be superior to the original, but the average film-goer is under 30, so many of them have never seen the orignal film. Perhaps they will go on to see the original film and/or read John Godey's novel.

As for me, I'll see the remake when it hits cable TV in a year or so.

I can wait.

More to come.

1 comment:

  1. I remember seeing this on TV years ago and liking it. I may follow your lead and watch the original version again. I'll likely see the new one as well.
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