Friday, June 27, 2008

Subterranean Thrills

The other night, I watched The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a 1974 movie about the hijacking of a New York subway car. It starred Robert Shaw as the lead hijacker and Walter Matthau as the cop in charge of the negotiations. It featured many great shots of old city signage, what the person I watched it with called "subway porn."

Shaw and his crew go by color-coded aliases (Mr. Blue, etc.), which Quentin Tarantino borrowed for Reservoir Dogs. I was expecting a lost gem, but Pelham is a little too cheesy for that. Still, it doesn't deserve to be lost. Sure, most of the people who work for the subway talk like cartoons of working-class New Yorkers. (The person I was watching with: "The lumpenprole leave something to be desired.") But once you roll with the cheesiness, instead of fighting it, there are many rewards. First off, there's the great of-its-time music over the opening credits. There's the comically inept, bed-ridden mayor (for a hilarious, two-second dose of him, watch the original trailer and wait until the 1:09 mark). There's a runaway train sequence, during which it's fun to scream, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!" (The person I was watching with: "Stop doing that.") There's Matthau and Shaw, who are always terrific. And the closing shot is an absolute classic.

The movie wears its '70s-ness not so lightly. I laughed out loud during the closing credits, when the hostages in the train were credited as: The WASP, The Hippie, The Hooker, The Pimp, The Salesman, The Secretary, and The Homosexual.


Now the bad news. It's being remade for a 2009 release, with Denzel Washington reprising Matthau's role. (IMDB lists his character with the same name as Matthau's: Zachary Garber. Hmmm.) I like Washington, but he and Matthau are obviously typecast very differently (Matthau all crusty schlubbiness and Washington all sharp intensity). Meaning, the new movie -- directed by Tony Scott -- will likely be a taut thriller with a big gun battle at the end, whereas the original was shaggy but ultimately lovable.

From what I can tell, the new hijacking crew will be led by -- gulp -- John Travolta. They tried to make up for that by also casting Luis Guzmán and Gbenga Akinnagbe (brilliant as Chris Partlow on The Wire), but too late.


Blogger Dezmond said...

I've always really liked Robert Shaw. He usually plays a heavy, but always throws some interesting quirks or nuances in there. He was, of course, Quint in 'Jaws'. He was cool in another cheesy 70's hostage flick, 'Black Sunday'. Shaw also played one of James Bond's most intimidating foes, Red Grant in the best Bond film, 'From Russia With Love'. If you get the chance, watch the fight scene on the Orient Express in FRWL between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw. It is still one of the best and most intense fight scenes in movies.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Oh, he was also supercool in 'The Sting'. One of the reasons I first wanted to play poker.

1:11 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home