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"The Taking of Pelham" 123 - (1974) - {Blu-ray} - (Best Buy Exclusive)
Wayne Klein
Studio: MGM/Fox
Release Date:
5/31/11 (a Best Buy exclusive)
Special Features:

Trailer Rated: R


While I enjoyed the latest film of The Taking of Pelham 123 featuring John Travolta and Denzel Washington it lacks the sense of being about "common" people--we have superstar actors that are playing the main roles and we are AWARE of who they are much more so than the older 1974 film. Tony Scott bad mouthed the original and nothing against Scott (who can be a fine director with the right material) but he completely missed the power and charm of the original film; the character actors filling out the roles exist with a background and just because we don't see that background or outside story doesn't mean that we aren't aware of it due to what the actors bring to the role. Joseph Sargant's film feels like it could have happened whereas Scott's comes across as mere entertainment with scenes written for the actor's egos to have more to play on screen. ***

Brilliantly adapted from the novel of the same name The Taking of Pelham 123 by Peter Stone (Mirage and Charade) from John Godey's suspense novel, transit cop Lt. Zachery "Z" Garber (Walter Matthau) finds his normally serene work day complicated by officals from Japan who want to see the workings of the New York subway system. Suddenly, Z finds himself smack dap in the middle of a hostage situation on one of the cars when four men nicknamed Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw A Man for All Seasons, Jaws), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo) and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman best known as Wilson from Home Improvement as the partially seen neighbor Wilson) have taken one of the trains by force and are holding it for $1 million that MUST be paid within an hour or they will execute passengers every minute the money is late. Z finds himself working against a nearly impossible deadline and communicating only by phone must figure out a way to stall the terrorists until the city of New York (which was broke in 1974) can find a way to come up with the money on such short notice. ***

Aside from the fact that this important thriller was a major influence on Quentin Tarrantino (the brutal criminals from Reservior Dogs take their nicknames from this film), The Taking of Pelham 123 is a taunt, tight and no nonsense thriller unlike the 2010 remake that padded out the story with unnecessary background for the characters in the film. Yes, we understand their motivation in the new film but that should be IMPLIED from the performances, acting, writing and direction. Eliptical storytelling can be a good thing because it gives the story an existence, context that makes it appear more plausible OUTSIDE of the film as if a slice of life was taken out of the world and plopped down in front of us. ***

The performances are uniformly brilliant an direct throughout--Shaw makes Blue an icy character that matches his "name" as does Balsam as Green, Elizondo as Grey and Hindman as Brown. Matthau's cynical, humorous, weary performance matches exactly what we expect from a character who has to deal with the petty crimes reported on the trains; he's bored out of his mind with his job until the terrorist perk up his life. Also of note is Jerry Stiller in a supporting role as a transit cop who acts as Matthau's comic foil at times. It's a perfect film the way it is and Scott's attempt to "improve" the material with the remake comes across by comparison as stiff and unnatural. ---

Image & Sound:

Fox has done a brilliant job of rendering The Taking of Pelham 123 for Blu-ray and I suspect this is the high def master that was prepared for "On Demand" services. Regardless of why it was prepared the transfer looks terrific with the film cleaned up and with no specks. The high def transfer comes from an exceptional source but the film still looks like one made in 1974 and there's no way to change that (and I don't think most fans would want that changed). Colors are drab as they were with the original film (it had to do with the newer film stocks introduced at the time)but detail is remarkably sharp given the age of the film with nice solid blacks throughout. Spread out over a dual layer BD disc at 39mbps, the film has plenty of room to breathe. ***

The original mono soundtrack is extremely good with David Shire's jazz score sounding very good. Dialogue is always crisp and clear. We also get the mon French and Spanish soundtracks as well. Subtitles in English are available for this title as well. ---

Special Features:

We only get the original theatrical trailer but it has been cleaned up and it is presented in HD. There is no main menu page as the film goes right into the movie when you load it (after the Fox and UA logos). There is a pop up menu that allows you to pause the presentation. I seem to recall that there was a promotional featurette produced for the film that aired on network TV in 1974 and while it might be in the public domain and not be in the best of shape I would have liked to see it included as well much as Warner does with their catalog titles. It's a minor complaint but at least we do get the original theatrical trailer in HD. ---

Final Words:

The Taking of Pelham 123 arrives on Blu-ray with a stellar looking high def transfer. There aren't any detectable motion artifacts and the bit rate is quite high for the film. While we don't get anything in the way of extras (most of the cast is dead but it would be nice to get a commentary track from the surviving cast members as well as the original promotional featurette if it still exists) we do get the original theatrical trailer cleaned up and presented in high def. For a vintage film The Taking of Pelham 123 still rushes along like the train in the film and while the conclusion may not be as dramatic as the remake there's an authentic feeling about the characters (and great humor) that the 2010 Scott directed version lacks. For the next three months this film is a Best Buy exclusive (although why they bother considering that they rarely carry more than one copy of their "exclusives" is beyond me--it's idiocy on the highest order). Highly recommended.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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