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Det Jim McLeod

The Taking Of Pelham 123 (1974)

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For me this is the quinntestional 1970s movie set in New York.

 

I just saw it again in a New York revival theater. Though I own it on DVD it is a movie that should be seen in a theater and share the reactions of other people. 

 

It is about 4 armed men who hijack a subway train and hold the passengers hostage for 1 million dollars. Walter Matthau is a sardonic transit cop and Robert Shaw is the cold blooded leader of the hijackers.The two of them match wits over the transit  communication system. Both Matthau and Shaw were having a great run of films during the 1970s and this is one of the best for both. Suspense and comedy are almost in equal measure as bullets and wisecracks flow freely. It also captures the grimy, nasty, foul mouthed era the city once was, take it from someone who lived through those times. It is great to see it on screen but I certainly would not like to have the city like that again.

 

Any other fans of this one?

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Big fan. Just a fun movie from start to finish, with lots of interesting characters. The old guy on the subway, the Ed Koch lookalike as mayor, Dick O'Neill going berserk ... where to start? Then toss in the pulsating score by David Shire. Hard to stop watching this one whenever it airs.

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Absolutely, Jim. It's one of the best caper films ever made in my view also, and regardless the period and/or setting.

 

(...and with this one and CHARLEY VARRICK showing us what a tremendous dramatic actor Matthau could be)

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Absolutely, Jim. It's one of the best caper films ever made in my view also, and regardless the period and/or setting.

 

(...and with this one and CHARLEY VARRICK showing us what a tremendous dramatic actor Matthau could be)

Yes, Matthau is at his most serious in "Charley Varrick" directed by Don Siegel. It had a good supporting cast including Joe Don Baker as a hulking hit man and Andy Robinson (the psycho from Siegel's big hit "Dirty Harry") as Matthau's partner in crime.

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Absolutely, Jim. It's one of the best caper films ever made in my view also, and regardless the period and/or setting.

 

(...and with this one and CHARLEY VARRICK showing us what a tremendous dramatic actor Matthau could be)

 

While one could say that Varrick and Pelham are his best dramatic performances Matthau was very sinister in King Creole (how he treats the lovely Carolyn Jones is nasty),  as well as his actor\director turn in the 1959's Gangster Story  (additional training for those later roles).

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One of my favorite films!   Matthau is wonderful, as are all of the other principals; but my two favorite performances are by Kenneth McMillan as the Borough Commander and particularly, the scene stealing Tom Pedi as TA Supervisor Caz Dolowicz ("why don't you hijack a f#$%C airplane like everybody else?"). Lots of humor here mixed with the gritty violence.   

Growing up in the Bronx, this one, like The Wanderers and Raging Bull really resonate with me.  If I had a dime for every ride I took on that Pelham IRT, I'd be rich!

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This superb film (and 'Charley Varrick', too) along with Matthau's other startling appearances in things like 'A Face in the Crowd' and 'Fail-Safe' surprisingly but firmly gives Matthau a place in my short-list for "top-tier all-time Greatest American Actors" like Frederic March and Paul Muni. The guy was a chameleon; he could excel in any genre. Could play comedy, thriller, good-guys and bad-guys; smarmy and slickers, schleps and evildoers.

This movie has been high on my list of personal favorites since I was a small lad. It was one of the first 'adult' novels I ever read (and what a doozey of an introduction to the world of adults it was). Superbly written thriller, (mind you, in a decade of stellar paperback thrillers) and the movie stands out for being one of the most faithful adaptations of source-material.  You could hardly even dream of anything better.

The 'counting the money' segment is one of the great sequences of professionalism in a movie (cousin to "Blow-Up", Rififi, 'Le Trou', or Coppola's "Conversation"). Then, when the patrol car is racing uptown on Lexington Ave --at top speed --this alone, simply unheard of in gridlocked New York City--delivering the ransom, then suddenly in Union Square the unit swerves, runs up the curb, topples, then pancakes...heart-in-throat stuff every time. Never seen anything like it. You want to leap out of your seat.

For a long time, I've owned the not just the VHS or the DVD, but had the fun movie soundtrack in my music playlist; the crazily inventive stylings of David Shire (Talia's former hubbie).

And one of the first treks I made when relocating to NYC was to go seek out the station filming locations to visit them personally. They still look exactly the same.

From personal experience, I can assure you that by-and-large the New York subway system is still very much like what you see depicted in this flick. The accents are still the same, the expletives, the cops, the discombobulated, butt-backward way the system runs. If you think the transit system is modern and efficient these days? Guess again. You are sadly mistaken. It's anything but improved.

Here's the proof (recent news stories)

https://tinyurl.com/p8hsvqq

https://tinyurl.com/ydg8qovb

So yeah, believe me...there are still Kafka-esque, unpredictable, interminable, subway-train foul-ups every damn day in NYC.

And yeah, real-life cops are all just as useless as they are in this story. Civil Servants are still lazy, asleep at their desks, reading newspapers with their feet-up, etc (Jerry Stiller's character). Every New Yorker simply knows this is the way it is.

Not to forget Robert Shaw here, who simply romps. Although it is Matthau's movie, Shaw is one of my fave actors too. Are there any cooler villains or anti-heroes, than the ones played by this man? Red Grant, Cap'n Quint, Mr. Blue, Colonel Hessler...towering, tragically foreshortened career.

THIS IS THE CURRENT NYC TRANSIT SYSTEM 'BIG BOARD'

MTA-CBTC.jpg

 

 

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Count me in as a fan of this film. The remake pales in comparison.

While Matthau is the glue that holds it all together, I think my favorite performance comes from Martin Balsam.

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Aye. Balsam was always so well-cast whenever called on to play any New Yorker. The kinds of slouchy, unkempt, glib, neighborly characters he personified, are endemic to this city to this very day, they never disappear no matter the date; they are always here every generation. They will always be typical New Yorkers.

Its rather why I turn merely a jaundiced eye to all the political-correctness in the news media lately. Spend 1 year residing in this city and you will see what a sham, 'correctness' is. This is still a vicious, dog-eat-dog town and people seethe at each other. When New Yorkers are 'polite' its because the alternative is a court appearance.

I don't know much about Balsam. Should look him up to see where he was raised. Kinda wish there was a database search I could do, to tell me all New York based classic actors in one swell foop, but I dont believe even IMDb does this.

There's a high school in Brooklyn which boasts an astonishing array of famous graduates but again...its only Wikipedia which lists it and its very awkward. Sports figures mixed in with politicians too.

Anyway its amazing that this flick (Pelham123) not only still holds up well but continues to reside at the top of the genre--at the pinnacle of great action thrillers. And yet it doesn't even contain a lot of action. Everything is character-based.

When that fat, gristled, Irish police chief radios the two delivery cops: "If I dont see your faces here in two minutes...I don't ever wanna see 'em!" its exactly how it is.

The remake was a foolish idea, outright. Long live the original Caz Dolowitz!

 

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Really, with regard to Matthau I dont know that I could name any other actor who was so adept in supporting roles before finally becoming an A-list star himself. Does anyone else come to mind? It took him quite a while didn't it? But he had a good long tenure as both kinds of star.

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44 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Really, with regard to Matthau I dont know that I could name any other actor who was so adept in supporting roles before finally becoming an A-list star himself. Does anyone else come to mind? It took him quite a while didn't it? But he had a good long tenure as both kinds of star.

Lee Van Cleef had a long climb to the top. He did many films in minor parts, then finally started getting better supporting parts, then second leads. And in Europe he became a star in spaghetti westerns which helped him eventually cross over to full-fledged stardom in Hollywood.

His first film was in 1952 (HIGH NOON) and he did not have his first lead role until 1966 (THE BIG GUNDOWN). It took him a decade and a half. He must have been the most patient, persistent actor ever. He would do leads and second leads until his last film in 1989. Granted, he was typecast in westerns and action films but I think he was just as versatile and talented as Matthau.

Van Cleef also did a lot of television. So he has 173 credits on the IMDb. Very prolific.

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That's true. I'm sure there's at least a few more that would occur...and the right timeframe as well: tail-end of the studio era and subsequent headliner in 'new Hollywood'. Stars who paid their dues. Maybe..Dennis Hopper, William Smith..

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1 minute ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

That's true. I'm sure there's at least a few more that would occur...and the right timeframe as well: tail-end of the studio era and headliner in 'new Hollywood'. Stars who paid their dues.

I think it comes down to something I call "cast-able." Some actors are just more cast-able than other actors. They seem perfect for a variety of roles and they get hired a lot.

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Charles Bronson. Hard to believe it when I see him in 'Master of the World'. Warren Oates. Jack Warden?

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21 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Charles Bronson. Hard to believe it when I see him in 'Master of the World'. Warren Oates. Jack Warden?

Yes, they're all good examples. 

An actor I find fascinating is Dean Stockwell. As a child he started on stage, then did a series of films into his early teen years. Then he became a Broadway actor in his 20s (in "Compulsion"). He returned to movies when he returned to Hollywood to do the feature film version of COMPULSION, which led to other movie roles. Meaning he successfully transitioned from child star to adult roles on screen.

In his 30s, he was doing all kind of guest spots on episodic TV dramas (usually as a villain). He still did films. Then he dropped out of acting for awhile (and became a hippie). He resumed his acting career and in his late 30s and 40s he becomes a well-regarded character actor. He received an Oscar nomination during this phase of his career. Then he lands a regular role on the science fiction fantasy show Quantum Leap which brings him a new audience of fans and another career resurgence.

Dean Stockwell reinvented himself often. Not everyone is able to do that. Some have career longevity playing the same kinds of characters (Lucille Ball comes to mind). But then are these other ones like Dean Stockwell who are chameleons and seem to be able to adapt to the latest trends. Of course, they're highly talented. But they have something extra that makes them last in a business where most people do not last.

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Telly Savalas. Talk about a guy that probably no one ever thought would be big. And he took that despicable 'Maggot' character (or whatever the name was) in TDD. But he's a workhorse in things like 'Slender Thread'.

Just like Martin Balsam, though--cant say I know too much about his early life. Greek, thats all I know about him.

Similar to Dean Stockwell: Roddy McDowall?

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15 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Charles Bronson. Hard to believe it when I see him in 'Master of the World'. Warren Oates. Jack Warden?

Jack Warden was great as the tough guy charmed and moved by a robot played by Jean Marsh on that Twilight Zone episode too.

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"I'm not lifting a finger to help the killers of Caz Dolowicz!" :angry:

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On 1/10/2019 at 3:15 PM, Sgt_Markoff said:

I don't know much about Balsam. Should look him up to see where he was raised. Kinda wish there was a database search I could do, to tell me all New York based classic actors in one swell foop, but I dont believe even IMDb does this.

Maybe this can help:

https://www.imdb.com/list/ls033440983/

Balsam was born in The Bronx.

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I can tell you that all the New York accents heard in this movie are still authentic to this day.

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