The Taking of Pelham 123 1974


John Godey’s novel was captured in all its squalling societal anxiousness in Joseph Sargent’s wonderfully terse 1974 thriller, with Robert Shaw as Mr Blue, the leader of a group of men who hijack a NYC subway train and hope to escape with a healthy ransom. Walter Matthau is the cop who stands in their way, and the cat-and-mouse game that ensues borrows as much from the 1950’s police procedural style of Naked City as from the on-location verities of The French Connection. Godey’s novel was a carefully researched piece, and the detail of the subway system and both the police work and the heist plan make sense in a way that the remake’s revisions didn’t. Shaw is a muscular villain, cold-hearted and cold-blooded, while Matthau piles on the charm as the wise-cracking negotiator. Sargent throws in some impressive on-location car action, and the mixture of tension and laughs runs right through to the final, flu-affected twist.


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