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Remastered in 4K, “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” needs to be on your shelf


(1-3) Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) and three other armed hijackers commandeer a New York City subway train and hold 18 hostages.

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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1974, R for violence and language Best extra: “12 Minutes with Mr. Grey,” a 2016 interview with actor Hector Elizondo

ANY DISCUSSION of the best gritty police action films of the 1970s has to begin with “The French Connection” and “Dirty Harry,” but it would be incomplete if it didn’t include “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.” Directed by Joseph Sargent (“MacArthur”), written by Peter Stone (“Father Goose”), shot by Owen Roizman (“Three Days of the Condor”) and scored by David Shire (“The Conversation”), this thrill ride grabs you from the opening notes of its propulsive theme. But the thing is, the story – four armed men hijack a NYC subway train and demand $1 million in one hour or passengers will die – isn’t the first takeaway. It’s apparent early on how they intend to get away.

What really sells it are the performances. From Robert Shaw (“Jaws”), who plays the ex-mercenary Mr. Blue, the leader of the hijackers, and Walter Matthau (“The Odd Couple”) as Transit Authority Police Lt. Zachary Garber, to the passengers, who are ID’d only as The Mother, The Old Man, The Hippie, and so on, each and every one is rock solid.

(1) Pelham One Two Three arrives at the 59th Street subway platform. (2) Junior Conductor Bud Carmody (Jerry Holland) gets instructions from older conductor Mr. Mattson (Walter Jones). (3-5) Mr. Blue waits for the train at the 28th Street Station. Everyone gets off and enters the train and he quickly moves to the first train. He points a gun at Motorman Denny Boyle (James Broderick) and Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) enters the compartment.

In fact, “character-driven” comes up several times in the lively commentary with film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson. They’re talking about the movie’s humor, and Stone’s adaptation of the 1973 novel by subway buff John Godey is often laugh-out-loud funny. Cases in point: Matthau’s patter when he gives four Tokyo subway execs a tour of the operations center and his repartee with his partner Lt. Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller, “Seinfeld”). But the descriptor applies to the entire film, and it’s worth repeating because characterization gets short shrift in today’s paint-by-number, CGI-heavy, Hollywood widget factory. So kudos to Martin Balsam (“Psycho”), Hector Alizondo (“American Gigolo”) and Earl Hindman (“The Parallax View”) as the other hijackers Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown. (You think Quentin Tarantino had “Pelham” in mind when he wrote “Reservoir Dogs”?) And likewise for Tom Pedi (“The Naked City”) as Supervisor Caz Dolowicz, Dick O’Neill (“The Front Page”), who plays the operations chief, Correll, and James Broderick (“Dog Day Afternoon”) as motorman Denny Doyle. VIDEO/AUDIO “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (2.35: 1 aspect ratio) was scanned in 4K from the original camera negative, and all you have to do is check out the footage in the archival making-of feature to appreciate just how good it looks. Facial features and clothing textures are defined, the steady grain is nicely cinematic and, thanks to an infusion of DolbyVision/HDR sorcery, skin tones are robust, shadows are deep and the whites are crisp. Roizman shot mostly using available light – the ops center was the only set used – which gives the movie a more realistic feel. But because most of the action takes place underground, the palette is dark (i.e., browns and dark reds). That means the occasional burst of color, like Matthau’s impossibly yellow tie, pops. Kino Lorber provides two audio choices – a new DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Both deliver, especially in the claustrophobic, echoey tunnels and hectic operations center. The gunfire cracks and dialogue is always clear. And Shire’s fantastic score … phew! Free tip: The soundtrack is available on Quartet Records.

(1-3) Mr. Blue has complete control of Pelham One Two Three with 18 hostages. (4) Desk Trainmaster Correll (Dick ONeill) tells Mr. Blue, Then who the hell are you? .... Identify yourself!(5) The New York City Mayor (Lee Wallace) is home sick with the flu and is informed of the $1 million ransom. (6) Transit Authority Police Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) is the negotiator between the Mayor’s office and the hijackers.

EXTRAS In their commentary, Mitchell, who was born and raised in NYC, and Thompson point out that “Pelham,” which came out during the “golden age of skyjacking,” is a genuine New York story. “It’s the most accurate movie [to show] what people were like,” Mitchell says. He also discusses the changes that Stone made to Godey’s novel, its sense of humor first and foremost. “The Sound of the City,” a 2016 interview with Shire, is good, too. He recalls that Sargent, who’d seen “The Conversation,” wanted to meet with him “and pretty soon I was hunting for a theme.” He knew that he wanted it to reflect New York in 1974, “chaotic but controlled,” and that it had to be jazz, but it wasn’t until he talked with other composers at a get-together in California that he hit on it. His explanation of his process and sources is fascinating. There’s also a second commentary with filmmaker Pat Healy and historian Jim Healy, an interview with editor Gerald B. Greenberg (“Apocalypse Now”), the vintage making-of short, an image gallery, trailers and TV and radio spots. So, where to start? With “12 Minutes with Mr. Grey,” a 2016 interview with Elizondo. You won’t soon forget his portrayal of the psychopathic Mr. Grey. Elizondo, who’d spent years in the theater, had a feel for the character after talking with Sargent and knew how to bring him to the screen. “I knew to leave myself alone and let the story handle the hard edges,” he says. “The story was very clear and the character was very clear. The more placid he seemed to be, the more dangerous he could be. There was this sense that he wasn’t afraid of anything and that he wasn’t afraid to die.” A native New York, he also says that the city was “on its knees in the 1970s” and survived only because of its thick skin. “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” he adds, “couldn’t have been done anyplace else.” Craig Shapiro

(1-4) With the clock ticking, a police cruiser crashes on its way to deliver the $1 million ransom. (5) Garber sets Correll straight after he refuses to cooperate with the hijackers. (6) Garber races to catch the hijackers before he realizes that he’s been tricked. (7) Wearing a change of clothes and having removed their fake mustaches, the hijackers prepare to hit the streets.


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