Although I've never seen the remake by Tony Scott, Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham 123 has a realistic film style that has influenced the movies of today. Taking place in New York City, four men hijack a subway train demanding a ransom of one million dollars. If the city is unable to make the payment within one hour, they will start murdering hostages one by one. With a rescue mission headed by the city transit department, will Lieutenant Zachary Garber (played by Walter Matthau) prevent the criminals from killing?
The Taking of Pelham 123 captures the realistic grittiness happening in the films of the 1970's. It opens up with an powerful musical score where the booming horns and trombones foreshadow the danger upcoming in the film. Even though the story is fictional, the people and settings are real, allowing even the exaggerated to be believable. I'm not certain, but upon viewing, most scenes look like they were shot on location, taking place in either the subway tunnels or city streets. In a similar vain to the French Connection, there is a fun car chase sequence where the protagonist is speeding to keep up with a train - But rather than pursuing a tram visibly over head, the subway being chased is racing hidden down below.
The film's biggest strength is the showcase of realistic dialogue and attitude from New York City. The conversations are highly entertaining and may be even more memorable than the action itself. The script is filled with humorous puns and wittiness that allows the audience to let out a few chuckles. Looking over Joseph Sargent's filmography, most of his work has been in television. Since television usually has a smaller budget than the movies, they rely more on the verbal interactions between people. Sargent masterfully directs these interactions whether its hostage negations over the radio or even right at hand between two officers driving in a car.
One last note I must mention since this blog is named after Mr. Tarantino - The disguised criminals are given code names after the colors of the rainbow - Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown. Besides green and grey, the idea of code names definitely has a familiar ring... Although their uniforms are not as sharp looking as the Reservoir Dogs, their attire is more British looking probably because they are led by Robert Shaw. And like most heist crews we see on the silver screen, personalities clash among its members leading to accidental death and disaster.
So on Death List Five, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three ranks #3.