Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The (1974)

Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The (1974)

“A train is down, its radio’s dead, the power’s off, and it’s dumped its load — aside from that, everything is ginger peachy.”

When a group of armed men, led by “Mr. Blue” (Robert Shaw), hijack a New York City subway car in exchange for a million dollars in ransom, it’s up to Lieutenant Garber (Walter Matthau) to save the day — if he can.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Hostages
  • Martin Balsam Films
  • New York City
  • Robert Shaw Films
  • Trains and Subways
  • Walter Matthau Films

This darkly comedic heist flick has garnered renewed attention recently due to Tony Scott’s upcoming remake, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, and scheduled for release in 2009. Yet the original remains a worthy, well-acted flick, with Matthau and Shaw — star of The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964) — perfectly cast as cat-and-mouse foils: both are immensely clever, and both are equally determined to succeed. Leavening the undeniably dark timbre of the script (numerous deaths occur) are several humorous subplots concerning the day-to-day workings of the New York City Transit Authority; the hostage situation is not only dangerous, but an inconvenience as well. Unfortunately, several plot holes mar what is otherwise a tightly scripted flick: Mr. Blue and his associates, for instance, never bother to check their passengers for hidden weapons, and their get-away plan is shaky at best. Regardless, The Taking of Pelham is guaranteed to appeal to fans of the genre, and will be especially enjoyable for anyone who’s ever taken a ride on the NYC Metro.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Walter Matthau as Lt. Garber
  • Robert Shaw as “Mr. Blue”
  • Effective use of New York subways

Must See?
Yes, as an all around “good show” and popular favorite.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The (1974)

  1. Yes, a high-octane must.

    I don’t really see anything to fault here. This fits in with the somewhat-select group of films designed as popular ‘entertainment’ that end up also as films ffs shouldn’t miss.

    One thing I like in particular is the set-up: the film opens with a conductor training a newbie; soon after, Matthau is giving a tour to a group of reps from the Tokyo subway system – so, now, as an audience, we have the whole feeling of the milieu of the story and we’re not just thrown blindly into the heist scenario (otherwise, we might have been).

    If I can fault the film at all, it rests with Shaw’s character’s request that the ransom payment (the specifics of how it is to be handled/delivered) is wildly unreasonable. If one looks for logic, the only thing that really works is that Shaw’s character knows – from the get-go – that he’s asking too much and that he’s got a death wish.

    There’s no let-up here at all. Peter Stone’s no-nonsense script is guaranteed to esp. please NY ffs with its spot-on capture of how NYers talk. As well, the performances across-the-board are spot-on, with Matthau carrying the torch throughout. Of special note, however, are Shaw, Martin Balsam and Hector Elizondo as the main heavies.

    Lots of surprises here – and a terrific finish!

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