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Friday, 27 March 2015

The Taking of Pelham 123


steven harris thinks Walter Matthau is doggedly pursuing Robert Shaw, bull doggedly pursuing him...

I know there was a remake with Denzel Washington and John Travolta and it was alright in a kind of John Travolta sort of way but I'm talking about the original 1974 movie here.

Mr Brown, Mr Grey, Mr Green, Mr Blue: a gang with criminal intent use these aliases to hijack a New York subway train and hold the hostages to ransom for one million dollars. Shut up Dr Evil, that was a lot of money back then, throw me a fricking bone here. No Mr Pink but no prizes for guessing where Tarantino took inspiration for his criminal gang aliases twenty years later.

The head criminal is Mr Blue AKA Robert Shaw, a year ahead of playing mad bastard sea captain and owner of a too small boat Quint in Jaws. He's just as compelling here, evidently psychopathic but with a rather superb logistical mind. Shaw's nemesis is the transport cop Garber, as played by a man who could make Bill Murray look sexy, Walter Matthau.



Garber is a smart man who looks like a bulldog. Mind you, any part played by Matthau looks like a bulldog. The fierce ones look like a bulldog licking piss off a thistle. The nice ones look like a bulldog merrily chasing a ball. Garber looks like a transport cop trying to stop a criminal gang from shooting any hostages before city hall decides to cough up the ransom.

There are tensions within the gang. Blue's authority is frequently challenged by an ex-Mafia type, Mr Grey. We know he's even badder than the baddest of the other baddies because he racially abuses and hits a black guy and insults a hooker. We want him shot, don't we ladies and gentlemen. And Hollywood deals in wish fulfilment, allegedly, which is why Jude Law gets his stupid head smashed in with an oar in The Talented Mr Ripley. But enough of my wishes.

Mr Green is the guy who can drive the train. In Americky they call them 'motormen'. Mr Green is the motorman. Yay, I sound street and cool now. He has the flu and sneezes several times while Blue and Garber are conversing over the radio. Garber is a nice bulldog man and always says "Gesundheit!" You just know this will turn out to be relevant, don't you?


So the money gets to the gang in time. Just in time. Tension is a must in the narrative arc as well as between gang members. Cops are in the tunnels and one has taken a pot shot at Mr Brown. In retaliation the tickety guy from the train is shot all dead. Now we want the whole gang to die, don't we? Well maybe not Mr Green as he has the flu and doesn't like people being killed all dead.

More stuff happens. Garber leaves the radio behind and comes hunting for the gang who have escaped through an escapey part of the tunnels leaving the train rattling around the tracks with no driver. I think Spider-Man saves the passengers. Or a big worm thing practises for his role years later in Men In Black and stops the train. Who cares? Subway trains crash every second. Unless I'm ever sponsored by the New York Subway company in which case they never crash but Quantas always do.

Grey doesn't want to hand over his gun so Blue kills him. Hooray. I told you it was all about wish fulfilment. Brown gets shot by a lone cop. Blue goes to shoot the cop telling Green to meet him later at an arranged place. Garber gets to Blue before he can kill the cop. Blue commits Marie Curie, no I mean Harry Curry, no I mean Hari Kari by electrifying himself all to deadness on the live tracks just like he's starring in a 1970s public information broadcast about being careful not to electrify yourself all to deadness on live tracks.


Some research has been done about potential motormen who could have been in on the job. Garber and Ben Stiller's dad (for reals, Jerry is an actor too - see also Zoolander) check some of the possibles out. Eventually they end up at Mr Green's. They're about to rule him out and leave when he sneezes. "Gesundheit!" says Garber and gives him a knowing look. Told you it was relevant. Credits roll.

It's awesomely New York. The word fuck is used. Not liberally but enough to make viewers know that this is a gritty movie and that the director doesn't give a damn if those bastards at the censorship department give it an X rating. Many of the cops are obese. Street shots are filled with yellow cabs. These things sound so cliche that they ought to weaken the film but they don't because a) it's 1974 and these things aren't that cliche at the time and, b) shut up, who made you king of New York filmography?

I love this movie but then I love black cherry yoghurt yet hate cherry coke. Go figure. Better yet, go watch this movie. Then watch that scene where Jude Law gets bashed to death in The Talented Mr Ripley. Satisfying, isn't it?

Images from IMDB and Wikipedia

steven harris is adverse to putting his name in capitals because names aren't that important. Also, lower case is sexy. steven writes all sorts of stuff including fiction, poetry, songs, opinion pieces and shopping lists. He does not write on lavatory doors any more. his blog has writing in it and can be located at www.theplanetharris.wordpress.com He lives in Devon with an imaginary cat called Kafka.

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