The Taking of Pelham 123 1974

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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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