“You’re trapped like rats in an underground tunnel. Your every exit is covered by sharpshooters. You’ve got a million dollars but you’ll never live to spend it”.
The New York subway is a hostile environment at the best of times, but it becomes lethal in Joseph Sargent’s pulsating thriller, The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three.
A gang of vicious gunmen led by ruthless former soldier-of-fortune “Mr Blue” (Robert Shaw) hijacks a subway train and holds its passengers hostage while demanding that a million dollars in cash be delivered within the hour. Can Transport Authority detective Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau) thwart them?
Martin Balsam gives a persuasive performance as “Mr Green”, a disgruntled former subway motorman who drives the train for the gang. The other two members of the gang are trigger-happy “Mr Grey” (Hector Elizondo) and “Mr Brown” (Earl Hindman).
It is for the Mayor (Lee Wallace) to decide if the city will meet the hoodlums’ demands or make a stand and forfeit the lives of the hostages. After some agonising, he agrees to pay up, and the city banks are alerted to get the huge cash sum together quickly so the deadline can be met.
The minutes tick by inexorably while the city waits, breathless to see the outcome. The entire New York subway system has by now been ground to a halt, and when the money is finally raised, there are only 26 minutes remaining before the hijackers begin to carry out their threat.
Lieutenant Garber (pictured above) pleads with the hijackers for more time, but Blue is adamant – the money must be delivered on the dot, or a hostage will die for every minute it is late.
Then begins a mad scramble to get the ransom money to the gang on time. The police car carrying the cash crashes and overturns, and the motorcycle outriders must take over. They arrive at the station entrance just as the deadline hour strikes, and Garver frantically pleads with Blue not to harm any hostages.
The gang leader grudgingly agrees to this, and two unarmed policemen edge their way along the darkened track, one carrying a torch and the other the money.
What is puzzling everyone, however, is how Blue and his gang will make a successful getaway. After all, they are on a train that cannot deviate from its rails, and whenever they leave it, they must do so on foot. But with the help of Green’s extensive knowledge of the subway system, Blue has worked out a plan that seems foolproof.
Jerry Stiller, as Lt Rico Patrone of the Subway police, is properly disinterested at first and earnestly involved in the film’s slowly building climax.
Peter Stone’s cracking screenplay, adapted from John Godey’s bestseller, swoops from black comedy – Matthau’s wry comedy acting is great fun – to heart-stopping thrills while Sargent screws the tension up to breaking point.
The title is taken from the train’s identification, which comes from its starting station (Pelham) and its time of departure (1:23 pm).
Mr Blue (Bernard Ryder)
Mr Green (Harold Longman)
Mr Grey (Joe Welcome)
Mr Brown (George Steever)
Lt. Rico Patrone