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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974)


This modestly clever, modestly involving thriller about the hijacking of a subway car is more fun than it has any right to be, largely due to all the 1970s NYC details in the lively location shooting (the film is chockablock with sad remnants of ‘Fun City’ attitude) and particularly in the inspired use of the local acting pool. While scripter Peter Stone makes structuring a tricky adaptation look easy, his reflexive use of blackout gag lines to end scenes hasn’t aged as well. Playing the lead transit detective in his signature shambling style, Walter Matthau is at some sort of pinnacle of audience rapport. (Watch close when he finally comes up with the big idea on how to deal with the crisis to see the merest wisp of pleasure cross his face. And how it tells.) Most of the fine cast (Martin Balsam, Jerry Stiller, Hector Elizondo, Tony Roberts) have to use a touch of heightened bravado just to keep in there with the great man, but only Robert Shaw, as the criminal mastermind, and top cops Kenneth McMillan & Julius Harris are able to fully play in the Matthau league.

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