review for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three on AllMovie

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
by Patrick Legare review

Joseph Sargent's film version of the book by John Godey is an electrifying thriller sparked by great performances, unrelenting action, and the fantastic use of location shooting. Walter Matthau stars as a wrinkly transit cop negotiating a potentially deadly situation: four criminals have hijacked a New York City subway train full of hostages -- whom they plan to kill one by one if they don't receive one million dollars in one hour. Peter Stone's gritty script (nominated for the Writer's Guild Award) ratchets up the tension splendidly, revealing perfectly timed details that keep viewers firmly on their toes. The dialogue has all the saltiness and cynical humor that mark true New York City speech, and the cast doesn't miss a beat with it. Matthau is quite simply a show stealer, whether he's leading a tour group of Asian cops whom he thinks don't speak English or coolly taking control of the crisis that brings the Big Apple to a standstill. Other notables include Robert Shaw, who leaves a distinct mark as the cold-blooded lead villain, Martin Balsam as Shaw's sickly cohort, and Woody Allen regular Tony Roberts as the mayor's wry assistant. Technically, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is first-rate, with particular credit going to the film's editing and lighting. David Shire's memorable music score recalls a style used in that other '70s crime classic, Dirty Harry. The villains' use of phony color names (Mr. Green, Mr. Blue, etc.) was later used by Quentin Tarantino in his film Reservoir Dogs. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was remade for TV in 1998, and again in 2009 for the big screen.