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“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”

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I watched this 1974 film, starring Robert Shaw, Walter Matthau, and Martin Balsam, on DVD last night. Excellent. Robert Shaw is one of the few actors/actresses – some others are Sean Connery, Greta Scacchi, and Julie Christie – whose presence in a movie is reason enough for me to see it. Some newspaper critic referred to this film in passing last week as a truly compelling thriller, and it is. Shaw is, as always, completely believable, playing the an ex-mercenary leader of a gang of four (“Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Gray”) men who hijack a subway train and hold it for $1,000,000 – hey, this was 1974! – ransom. Matthau is very good as the detective who tries to foil the crime. Besides Mr. Balsam, the other two guys in the “gang of four” are played by now-familiar excellent character actors whose names I have no idea of but have seen countless times in similar roles.

The only things that made the movie not quite totally engrossing were technical issues:

1) The movie was clearly transferred right from film to DVD with no attempt to clean it up, as is often the case with more lucrative movies like “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Blade Runner,” etc.: thus it was really grainy even on DVD.

2) Once again it was furnished only in widescreen as opposed to giving a 4:3 aspect ratio option. I venture to say 99% of those buying/renting this DVD do NOT have widescreen 16:9 TVs, so what the hell are the studios thinking? And, even if you are in that 1% with a flat-screen plasma display, you still are stuck with black bars above and below your picture, since the film is presented in 2.35:1! Sheesh.

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  • MJK

    Right on!

    This movie exemplifies the grit and raw talent of the 70’s movie genre. It captures NYC – a city on the brink of bankruptcy — with a sharp eye.

    The cast is superb: Shaw’s performance is definitely worth watching – only complemented by Matthau, Jerry Stiller, and Marty Balsom. The banter between “straphangers” on the ransomed train captures the NYC of old: when the city, though diverse, was still somewhat balanced…

    MJK