The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 22, 2011 by  

The original 1974 version of “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is the best version of the film to date!  “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is also a portrait to how New York was at the time and it’s a damn good film! Action, suspense and definitely gritty… It will captivate you from beginning to end!

Images courtesy of ©1974 Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three


DURATION: 104 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (Widescreen 2:35:1), English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono, French Mono, Subtitles: English SDH, French

COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Twentieth Century Fox


Release Date: May 29, 2011

Directed by Joseph Sargent

Based on the novel by John Godey

Screenplay by Peter Stone

Produced by Gabriel Katzka, Edgar J. Scherick

Associate Producer: Stephen F. Kesten

Music by David Shire

Cinematography by Owen Roizman

Edited by Gerald B. Greenberg, Rober Q. Lovett

Casting by Alixe Gordin

Art Direction by Gene Rudolf

Set Decoration by Herbert F. Mulligan

Costume Design by Anna Hill Johnstone


Walter Matthau as Lt. Zachary Garber

Robert Shaw as Blue

Martin Balsam as Green

Hector Elizondo as Grey

Earl Hindman as Brown

James Broderick as Denny Doyle

Dick O’Neill as Correll

Lee Wallace as The Mayor

Tom Pedi as Caz Dolowicz

Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone

Walter Matthau, Roert Shaw and MArtin Balsam lead an all-star cast in the “Gripping and exciting” (The Hollywood Reporter) suspense film based on the sizzling best seller by John Godey.

A gang of thugs who have hijacked a subway train near New York’s Pelham Station threaten to kill one hostage per minute.  Forced to stall the assailants until a ransom is delivered or a rescue made, transit chief Lt. Garber (Matthau) must somehow ad-lib, con and outmanuever one of the craftiest, cruelest villains (Shaw) ever.  It’s a race against time, and no one knows whether things will and heroically or tragically in this pulse-pounding thrill ride!

In 1973, author John Godey created the thriller novel “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”.  A film that received an adaptation in 1974 courtesy of screenwriter Peter Stone (“Charade”, “The Truth About Charlie”) and director John Sargent (“Jaws: The Revenge”, “Warm Springs”).

The film was well-received by film critics and would be nominated for several awards.

The popularity of the film would lead to a TV film adaptation in 1998 (starring Edward James Olmos), which was more faithful to the novel but to make it more modern, while the latest film adaptation titled “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” from 2009 starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington would be more raw, vicious and feature modern technology and with key differences from the 1974 version.

While the 2009 version didn’t do as well and was criticized by critics, many have wondered how the 1974 version of the film was.  And now, the Blu-ray release of “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is now available.

In the original version, the film takes place in 1974, a time when racial stereotyping was still rampant and racial tension was still a hot topic since the Attica Prison riot of 1971 (note: Prisoners held a riot for better living conditions and a response to the death of a Black radical activist ).

Four heavily armed men known by the names of Mr. Blue (played by Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (played by Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (played by Hector Elizondo) and Mr. Brown (played by Earl Hindman) have come aboard the Pelham 1 2 3 subway train at different spots.  Each are watching each other’s signals at distance.

Meanwhile, Lt. Zachary Garber (played by Walter Matthau) of New York City Transit Authority is giving a tour to Japanese Tokyo Metro directors of the New York subway command-center.

Back on the Pelham 123, the four men take control of the train and separate one car with 17 passengers and take them all as hostages.  As angry New Yorkers wonder why they can’t get on their subway train, it is thought that one of the cars have broken down.  But when  a call comes into the command center, Mr. Blue tells them that the Pelham 1 2 3 has been hijacked.

Mr. Blue continues to tell them that they have one hour to get one million dollars or else, a hostage will be killed every minute after.

As we watch Lt. Zachary Garber trying to negotiate with Mr. Blue for more time, Mr. Blue is no-nonsense.  Some of the transit authorities think he’s kidding because they have nowhere to run, especially since their car is down.    As one of the supervisors Caz Dolowicz tries to confront the hijackers by himself, he is killed in the process by Mr. Grey and immediately, Garber and the workers at the command station know that these hijackers will indeed kill the passengers if they don’t get their money in time.

The film then starts to show the challenges that everyone is facing.  The mayor is faced with a challenge of deciding if he wants to cave into the hijackers demands.  Garber gets in arguments with Correll who hates that Garber is having to negotiate with hijackers and giving them what they want when he is mostly concerned of getting the trains back on schedule.

Meanwhile on the train, Mr. Blue worries about Mr. Grey and his attitude of not wanting to listen to anyone and seems quite bloodthirsty.

As the mayor decides to give into the hijackers demands and authorize the bank to get $1,000,000, unfortunately Mr. Blue is not caving into the demands by Garber for more time and tells him that if they don’t get the money to him within the hour they started, people are going to die.  Meanwhile, Mr. Green (who has a cold and keeps sneezing) doesn’t want anyone to die but knows Mr. Blue would not hesitate in killing the hostages.

Garber and the police know that time is not on their side in getting the money and then delivering it to the hijackers within the hour.  So, Garber must do all he can in order to stall time before each hostage is killed.


“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is a 1974 film and there is a good amount of grain.  I felt that the picture quality was much better than from what I remembered of the film, especially towards the closeups where I found a bit more detail.  The film was never vibrant in colors, if anything, it was a bit of dreary under the tunnels and where most of the brightness was towards the command center and outdoor scenes.

Black levels are deep, I didn’t notice any artifacting, banding or edge enhancement.  Considering the film was shot in the early ’70s, the picture quality was much better than I expected.


“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is presented in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish mono and French mono.   For this Blu-ray release, you are given the choice to have a lossless mono left and right track or to have it play through the center channel.  I chose to have the audio play on all channels as I prefer a bit of immersiveness.   Dialogue is clear but because this is a monaural track track, one can’t expect too much, but wit the setup that I had of stereo on all channels, the soundtrack definitely sounds good during the more action-intense moments towards the end and also during the machine gun exchange towards the middle of the film.


“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” comes with the original theatrical trailer in HD (duration: 2:30).

The original film adaptation of “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” so far remains the best version of the film to date, despite the modern remakes decades after this film’s release.

There is one primary reason why the original shines in my opinion and that is because it reflects on a time period of how America was at the time.  How New York was at the time.

New York during the seventies was not the cleaned up post-Giulani way it is now.  There was racial tension, there was a lot of crime, there was prostitution all over the streets and I think the Blu-ray release that goes in to great detail of how bad it was back then was the recent Blur-ray release of “Taxi Driver” (1976).

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is essentially a portrait of how America once was, from the character Lt. Zachary Garber (played by Walter Matthau) treating the Japanese guests by calling them names and even shocked when he finds out the NYC police officer he was talking to all this time was a Black man.  Then there is Mr. Grey calling the Black passenger the “N-word” and even the mention of “Attica” painted a picture of an America that was tense due to the racial conflicts at the time.

This is one area that can’t be redone in any remake.  The early ’70s, especially a film that takes place in New York City had this seediness, this portrayal on film that was drab, the police were often featured as inept, as well as its mayor.  The film was obviously a message or a statement of how things were at the time.

So, a politically correct remake of this film, even if the most recent version featured more violent, I don’t care about humanity type of hijackers post-9/11, New York today has evolved to a much better city than it was in the ’70s.

And when you go back to watching this film, there was a sense of hell breaking loose!  I loved how there was this counter argument between Garber and Correll, especially towards each other.  And unlike films today, where hostage films have a negotiator trying to play nice, this film showed Garber and even Lt. Rico Patrone adding their comments towards the hijackers of how they think of them.  Something you just don’t see in today’s films.

And of course, the villains.  It was a much more intriguing film to have someone leading the group who sounded like an intellectual, violent enemy rather than a crazed lunatic as portrayed in the remake version of the film.

But what it all comes down to is character portrayal.  The recent version of the film is your typical, forgettable banal popcorn-action film, the 1998 TV film is just a TV film and this original film adaptation from 1974 was a raw, in your face action/suspense film that had more in tune with how New York City was for its time.  The original is a much better film.

As for the Blu-ray release, it’s your usual barebones release that I wish had more to offer in special features but doesn’t.  Picture quality is very good for a film that is nearly 40-years-old and yes, it would be nice if given a 5.1 lossless soundtrack but the monaural lossless soundtrack still makes this Blu-ray release the definitive version of the 1974 film to own at this moment.

If you want to see the best version of “The Taking of Pelman One Two Three”, this is the one you want!


General Disclaimer:

J!-ENT has not received any compensation from the company for this post. J!-ENT has no material connection to the brands, products, or services that are mentioned in this post.

For Product Reviews:

For product reviews, J!-ENT has purchased the above product for review purposes or may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free by the company which in no way affects our reviews, may it be positive or negative. We only recommend products or services we have tested/reviewed and believe will be good for our readers.

For Advertising:

Some of the links in our posts are "affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, J!-ENT will receive an affiliate commission.

J!-ENT is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”