The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: Screen legends Walter Matthau (The Laughing Policeman) and Robert Shaw (Figures in a Landscape) team up with Martin Balsam (After the Fox) and Hector Elizondo (Cuba) to deliver a sure-fire entertainment that’s gripping and exciting from beginning to end and is guaranteed to give you the ride of your life. A gang of armed professionals hijacks a New York subway train somewhere outside the Pelham station threatening to kill one hostage per minute unless their demands are met. Forced to stall these unknown assailants until a ransom is delivered or a rescue is made, transit chief Lt. Garber (Matthau) must shrewdly outmaneuver one of the craftiest and cruelest villains (Shaw) in a battle of wits that will either end heroically or tragically.
Features masterful direction by Joseph Sargent (White Lightning), gorgeous widescreen cinematography by Owen Roizman (The French Connection), a classic rousing score by David Shire (The Conversation) and top-notch editing by Jerry Greenberg (Apocalypse Now) and Robert Q. Lovett (Cotton Comes to Harlem).
“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” came fairly late in the 1970s cycle of Vehicular Disaster Epics; after two crippled airplanes “The Poseidon Adventure,” it was perhaps inevitable that we’d get a train, a dirigible in “The Hindenburg,” an elevator in “The Towering Inferno,” and a sequel to “The Poseidon Adventure” in which, had I been consulted, the ship would have righted itself and the poor devils would have had to start all over again, retracing their steps.
Taking of Pelham One Two Three was a big success and to this day New York City dispatchers avoid having trains at Pelham station leave at 1:23. Tarantino’s use of the color-coded nicknames differs from the whodunit plot of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three in that it is the criminals themselves who are concealed from one another. The police have no factor in uncovering identities or discovering who these thieves are. It is the audience of Reservoir Dogs who learn their backstories through flashbacks. And since the thieves often only know one another by their code names, it feeds their paranoia, leading to the final stand-off.