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    Default THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (DVD; 1974; MGM/20th Century Fox)



    Studio: MGM/20th Century Fox
    MPAA Rating: R
    Disc/Transfer Information: Widescreen 2.35:1 (non-anamorphic)
    Tested Audio Track: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
    Director: Joseph Sargent
    Starring Cast: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Hector Elizondo, Tony Roberts


    LoMANACO'S PLOT ANALYSIS:


    With all the recent excitement and forum hoopla swirling around Tony Scott’s remake – or, as he prefers to call it, “reimagining” – of the 1974 crime gem on Blu-ray, I thought it rather relevant and interesting to go back and take a look at this often-forgotten thriller based on the novel by John Godey and helmed by Joseph Sargent. I have added this DVD to my personal collection based on experience and interest in the title at a young age, and for the fact that it makes an effective companion piece to the Tony Scott remake. Unfortunately, MGM has not commissioned the 1974 Taking of Pelham One Two Three on Blu-ray, nor has it released a remastered version on standard DVD, which is usual practice for a studio when a remake comes out either theatrically or on home video; this, in my opinion, was a lame decision by the Sony/MGM/Fox/Columbia conglomerate. A tie-in for people to re-acquaint themselves with the original during the time of the remake’s release would have been smart, as well as something to give fans of the ’74 original.

    For those of you only exposed to the recent re-telling of this story by kinetically-gifted director Tony Scott, which starred Denzel Washington and John Travolta, the initial film surprisingly boasted a rather large cast: Remember Denzel’s role in the remake, as Transit Dispatch officer? Walter Matthau plays that part in the original film, only he’s a New York Transit cop working in the rail control center. Travolta’s wild “Ryder” (Dennis Ford) character is played by Robert Shaw in this 1974 edition, while supporting roles portrayed by the likes of Luis Guzman, John Turturro and James Gandolfini in the remake are based off of performances by Hector Elizondo (one of Shaw’s henchmen on the hijacked train, which was the “Bashkin” character in the remake) and Martin Balsam – even Jerry Stiller is in this original film, playing another NYC Transit officer in the rail control center.

    Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is rendered with such a dry, sarcastically overdone feel that at some points, it borders on unwatchable and even laughable – but it creates part of this film’s overall charm, attempted to be mimicked by Scott’s remake. There’s a sprinkling of bad language in this, but it’s done tastefully unlike the overdone excess in the newer version. But just how do the two films differ in terms of screenplay and story development? Matthau plays “Zachary Garber” (which Scott used to create Denzel Washington’s “Walter Garber” character in his film, borrowing Matthau’s first real name and mixing it with the character’s last name), a Transit officer that goes about his days sulking and getting into sarcastic rhetoric bantering with Stiller’s could-care-less character in the rail control center. One of these days are broken up by a visit to the Transit Control by a group of Tokyo train execs, who are taken for a humorous tour by Matthau around the New York City control center; when I say humorous, I refer to a particular moment in this sequence where Matthau doesn’t realize the Oriental gentlemen can actually understand English as he calls them “dummies” and “monkeys” during the tour.

    Meanwhile, a group of men are seen boarding the Pelham, Bronx, New York subway train at different points, each dressed in trenchcoats of varying kinds, and all wearing glasses and mustaches. Robert Shaw is the charismatic leader of the group, who boards last and, as taken in the remake, demands for the motorman to open the control booth for him under the threat of a machine gun. Whereas in the remake the men were known as “Ryder,” “Bashkin,” “Phil Ramos” and so on, the hijackers in the original are simply known as “Mr. Green” and “Mr. Blue,” etcetera, named after colors. As the other men – including a vulgar and sexually aggressive rather demented Hector Elizondo – take their positions in the subway cars, Shaw and his appointed new motorman (Luis Guzman’s character in the remake) position the train in an ideal position in the tunnel, stop it and disconnect all but one primary car. Of course, this is signaling all kinds of chaos in the control station, and a wild-mouthed, anxiety-ridden dispatcher begins losing his cool – especially when Pelham One Two Three doesn’t answer his outrageous demands for their response over the radio. Shaw finally states his demands in a cool, calculating fashion (as opposed to Travolta’s over-the-top violent performance) to the dispatch center – a million dollars in cash is to be released by the mayor for the safe return of the passengers onboard. Of course, times have changed since the 1970s, and the remake sees a demand of 10 million bucks. The immediate reaction to these demands by the overtly anxious and foul-mouthed dispatcher is hysterical to witness, as he calls them “maniacs” and “nut jobs” and everything in the like, while taking down the list of demands. At this point, Garber (Matthau) takes over the case, being a Transit Police authority, and a witty bantering session is humorously played out between him and the fiery dispatcher.

    Tony Roberts (Amityville 3-D) turns in an early performance in this as the deputy mayor, who rushes to His Honor’s side at Gracie Mansion in Manhattan to alert him of the demands of these hijackers. The mayor – who’s a spitting image of a younger Ed Koch – is sick with the flu and refuses to get involved in anything until Roberts demands a meeting with city officials and His Honor himself to discuss whether to give in to the hijackers or not. But what’s most fascinating during all these sequences while watching the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three is to bear witness to all the old, classic New York City Transit equipment and “technology” of the time period – instead of a digitalized computer center as in the remake, we see flashing bulbs representing the train lines running on their routes, up on the control center’s wall. The clothing…the thick, ridiculously over-authentic New York accents on the Transit characters (”Get to woik!...”)…the old subway trains…it harkens back to a New York of the past, so authentically captured by filmmakers like Martin Scorsese (in films like Taxi Driver) or even in films such as Nighthawks. It’s a stark contrast to the modern New York Transit operations depicted in Tony Scott’s film.

    But much of the groundwork utilized by Scott for the recent retelling of the story is all here – the demand by the hijackers that the money get to them in one hour, the undercover cop on the train, the stopping of the train in the middle of the tunnel so the men can make their escape and put the train on auto so the passengers go for a wild speed ride…while these elements were updated in the remake, it was interesting to revisit the original images from the first film in all their old glory. Eventually, the million dollars is delivered to Shaw and his men, and they begin to plot their getaway, which is through underground derelict stairways which lead to the New York streets above. Where in Scott’s remake, the throttle is set by Travolta in order to defeat “the dead man” failsafe feature, here, a hokey plan is put into action whereby Shaw and his motorman henchman alter the underpinnings of the train somehow, which causes it to move on its own down the tunnel at a ridiculous speed. On the train are humorous ramblings by different New York stereotypes and demographics; a Jewish old man, Puerto Rican women shouting prayers for the train to stop, African-American men jivin’ and buckin’ all over the place…it’s amazing to actually watch.

    As the train rushes forward and Shaw and his men jump off to make their escape, Matthau and the cops are following above in a squad car, attempting to keep up with the speeding train. That is, until Matthau figures out that they must have gotten off at the little stop they made. Now, where Scott’s remake had Travolta and his men escaping through the Waldorf Astoria hotel and separating – but all eventually being shot – the original film told a bit of a different tale. The hijackers come down to all but Shaw and his motorman, until Shaw is eventually confronted by Matthau in the tunnel itself. I won’t divulge how Shaw’s character meets his demise here.

    Alas, the final surviving hijacker makes his way up through the hidden staircase and out through a street level access – and apparently disappears into New York hustle and bustle. Meanwhile, Matthau and Stiller get a list of New York Transit motormen that were either in prison and got out, or who were blacklisted for some reason or another. That eventually brings them to Shaw’s motorman’s apartment – does he get away with the full million dollars? Do Matthau and Stiller nail him? I won’t give that away – but just let me say that the ending of the 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is incredibly more clever and effective than the Travolta/Washington standoff conclusion in the remake. And it all has to do with a sneeze…


    TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE REVIEW CONTINUED BELOW...

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    TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE REVIEW CONTINUED...

    It was a treat to revisit the original Pelham this evening, and it makes for a very interesting comparison piece to Tony Scott’s visually thrilling retelling. For those of you who have never seen the 1974 version, do yourself a favor and at least try and find a rental copy – if not, the DVD is cheap enough to find on Amazon as a blind buy. Don’t get me wrong – Scott’s retelling is genuine modern entertainment and doesn’t disrespect Joe Sargent’s original in any way (as so many remakes tend to) but…they just don’t make them like this anymore.

    VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:

    MGM/Fox’s standard DVD release of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is presented in a non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that initially baffled me as it made its way through my Blu-ray upconversion; as I pressed some onscreen menus to confirm soundtrack choice and language, etc., I noticed that these menus were horrendously blown up, which happens when I need to enlarge non-anamorphic DVDs manually (for those that my player doesn’t do automatically). Apparently, this DVD was automatically stretched by my player to compensate for the lack of 16X9 enhancement on the disc. Nevertheless, the image for this 2.35:1 transfer didn’t look that great, not surprisingly based on the age of this print.

    To begin with, the train and tunnel sequences in particular were murky, dismal and devoid of much color saturation or detail. There was a purplish/blue tint to the color palate, especially under the fluorescent lighting of the subway tunnels and train interiors, and this seemed to wash out fleshtones and clothing detail. When the action switched to outdoor New York City sequences, such as when the ransom money arrives or Matthau and the police chief are speeding to meet the train, the transfer looked much better, exhibiting a much cleaner appearance with correct skintones and less noise. Still, when the action dropped back to underground tunnel or night sequences, mosquito noise and a murky character marred the image. Coupled with these problems, there was an off-putting inconsistency to the shots inside the hijacked train – most of these shots were simply soft, flat and lacked any real detail or visual pop, but again, we’re dealing with film stock from 1974 which, from all accounts, wasn’t cleaned up much by MGM for these DVD releases.

    I suppose the DVD release of Pelham can be considered perfectly acceptable for the age of the title and the format it’s in, but it would have been nice for Columbia to have issued a release on Blu-ray to correspond with the remake’s release – or at the least remaster this print. Still, if this is the best we’re going to get Pelham in, I recommend picking it up now.

    AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:

    Nothing much to speak of here – if you’ve heard one “dual mono” or “big fat mono” or “mono” mix on a DVD, you’ve pretty much heard them all. Here, MGM has released Pelham on DVD with the film’s original accompanying 2.0 mono track that has moments of unevenness but otherwise gets the job done.

    Some mono tracks, from my vast experience with them, vary in volume output yet share a characteristic of “shrillness” should the master volume be pushed too high – on one of the DVD releases of the original House on Haunted Hill, for example, the overall output is extremely loud with shrieking shrills from the female cast members bellowing out of the center channel position (also a 2.0 mono track). Yet, on Warner’s DVD release of the original The Haunting, the mono track on that disc exhibits a whisper-quiet nature that’s difficult to follow along with. Still, Pelham’s 2.0 mono track was decoded by my receiver’s Pro Logic II circuits and dropped into my center channel (even though I still wonder where it’s best for these kinds of mono tracks to come from) and it exhibited decently loud volumes and punch for the material. Sometimes, the audio of this mono mix was lower in output than other times, which made it a bit uneven, but again, for the material we have here, the audio was acceptable.

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    [QUOTE=Mike LoManaco;1203717]

    DUDE.......is it Mike L. or Peter M....Im begining to think its Peter.....
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuntasensei View Post
    I just like to illustrate the fact that all he does is cut and paste his stuff from another forum onto this one. Mike/Peter is not an active participant in the other areas of this site, only really posts here when he gets sand in his vajay over someone disagreeing with him, and essentially uses this place as a dumping ground for his reviews. Why this isn't considered spam per the posted rules of this forum is beyond me.
    While I don't care for his reviews or attitude concerning those that disagree with him, he does post in other areas.

    Mostly Onkyo related threads, for some reason....

    I do find it odd that he goes by different names, however. Seems evasive to me.
    Wris****ch--->Crisco

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    Most members of this forum exhibit a higher level of maturity than to take the opportunity to turn someone's forum ID into a derogatory term. My daughter likes to look at the movie reviews in this forum to see what she and I could enjoy seeing together. She asked me why someone would post something like that. I told her she should friend Polk Audio on her social networking sites and ask them that question, and then have all her hundreds of friends across all of her social networking sites to do the same thing. I would be interested in the answer?
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    This is one of my all time favorite movies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hearingimpared View Post
    This is one of my all time favorite movies.
    Which did you prefer, the older version or the new version?

    I did enjoy both reviews by Mike LoManaco.
    I appreciate the time he takes to produce them.
    I just purchased the older one after watching the newer one.
    I look forward to comparing the two versions.
    Last edited by xcapri79; 11-26-2009 at 10:01 PM.

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    I haven't seen the newer version yet but I am chomping at the bit to see it so I can't form an opinion yet. I do however know that the original is going to be hard to beat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hearingimpared View Post
    I haven't seen the newer version yet but I am chomping at the bit to see it so I can't form an opinion yet. I do however know that the original is going to be hard to beat.
    I agree, Robert Shaw is good at playing a bad guy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xcapri79 View Post
    I agree, Robert Shaw is good at playing a bad guy.
    There was a lot of humor in the original. Is there that level of humor in the remake?

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    Quote Originally Posted by hearingimpared View Post
    There was a lot of humor in the original. Is there that level of humor in the remake?
    I started watching it and will finish this evening.
    The original appears to be more serious.
    The remake is different and the actors are quite different.

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    I just put the remake at the top of my Netflix queue with Star Trek 2009.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kuntasensei View Post
    You'll definitely enjoy Star Trek more than the remake of this. Travolta's ham-handed portrayal of the bad guy borders on caricature, especially when he tries to sound "street". Still, it's a good watch regardless.
    I saw Star Trek in the movie theater and I can't wait for my wife to see it on my HT . . . I'm looking forward to it too after reading the thread about the BD & DVD.

    I guess I'm one of the few here who likes Travolta so I'm looking forward to getting a kick out of the remake.

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