Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reel Resurrection: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Turns out Quentin Tarantino is a copycat.

OK, maybe it’s not really shocking to learn that a filmmaker so obsessed with pop culture has borrowed a bit from it, but it’s still a little disappointing to hear that what I thought was one of Tarantino’s more creative bits of storytelling – the way the characters in Reservoir Dogs call themselves colors, like Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, etc. – was taken wholesale from another movie.

That movie, on the other hand, wasn’t the least bit disappointing. It’s called The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and I put it in my Netflix queue a while back for reasons I don’t entirely recall. It finally came around this week and it turned out to be a pretty rewarding hostage/heist flick from the ‘70s.

It’s the story of a bunch of guys who take an NYC subway train hostage for the hefty ransom of ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!! (Hey, it was 1974). Much of the drama surrounds just how the heck the gang expects to get away with it (they’re sealed in an underground tunnel after all) and how the usually under-taxed transit cops are going to deal with this kind of situation.

A few of the side characters are a little cartoony and there’s a side plot with the mayor that doesn’t really go anywhere, but generally speaking I thought the movie held up well for a crime caper made more than 30 years ago. Walter Matthau is surprisingly entertaining as the dry-witted transit police supervisor, Jerry Stiller makes an understated yet humorous appearance, and Robert “Black eyes, like a dolls’ eyes” Shaw plays the head hostage taker with unexpected panache.

The best part of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is probably as simple as the pacing. After months of watching Oscar bait that should have ended 45 minutes before they actually did, it was refreshing to see a movie that actually, well moved. If this is what Tarantino grew up on, its no wonder he has trouble sitting still.


Nooch said...

When I lived home I took the train everyday from NYC to Pelham. No one ever took me hostage though.

I hear they are making a remake Liz. Pretty sure it is one of ours. If I hear any details I will let you know.

Liz said...

I thought of that while I was watching it: "Pelham? That's where Noochie lives!"

What do you mean, "One of ours?"

red said...

Sounds worth checking out, but what do you mean "Walter Matthau is surprisingly entertaining?" Matthau is almost ALWAYS entertaining!

Liz said...

Yeah that probably came out wrong Red. I didn't mean it was surprising that he was entertaining, I was just surprised he was entertaining (and believable) in that particular role

The Vegetable Assassin said...

The original version of "..Pelham" is great, I'm always apprehensive about remakes though, so I'm sort of curious to see this new version.

Tarantino always says he takes stuff from other movies he's enjoyed. He's quite vocal about it. It's his way of paying homage he says.

McGone said...

I echo the above statement.... Tarantino hasn't been shy about his homages/straight rip-offs. It's kind of what makes him one of the best ambassadors when you think about it. He's basically telling people "If you like what I've done, you should check out where I got the idea."

The "Pelham" remake comes out in June, last I heard.