Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pelham One Two Three's In Motion

I have to write about THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, I still have to put down my thoughts on the long version of DEATH PROOF and I still haven’t written a post about the Bava book. But all that must wait now, because some things simply cannot wait.

Let me be very, very clear. You cannot remake THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. You cannot, even though it’s in Variety, on the fast track to be remade with Denzel Washington starring and Tony Scott directing. It’s a fool’s game. I mean, if you’re going to ask the question, ‘what’s the best movie ever made?’ is the answer ever not going to be THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE?

All right, fine. I’m slightly overreacting. But I’m from New York. I grew up knowing this movie. I think there were fewer Saturday afternoons that Channel 5 didn’t show the movie than did. To this day, the poster hangs in my apartment. “We are going to kill one passenger a minute until New York City pays us 1 million dollars.” See, I knew that because I was able to turn around and look at it. And the cast: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Dick O’Neill, Jerry Stiller, Kenneth McMillan, Doris Roberts, Julius Harris, every single one of those actors who play hostages but don’t get character names, and of course “Tony Roberts as Warren LaSalle” as he’s credited at the bottom of the cast crawl, which always makes me feel like the character reappeared as the lead in some other movie I’ve never seen.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE was directed by Joseph Sargent from a screenplay by Peter Stone, writer of CHARADE. It takes place in a seventies New York, one full of dirt and grime and phlegm. One that is vibrant. One that isn’t digital. That’s how it should be. There was a remake back in the late 90s for TV, shot in Toronto and directed by an NYPD BLUE guy, which means it was filled with handheld stuff. It was unwatchable.

Denzel is playing the Walter Matthau part. Putting aside how awesome Matthau is in the film and how great it is to see the schlubby Matthau wake up and be the one guy who can deal with the mastermind that is Robert Shaw, the strangest thing is that Denzel kind of just played this part in INSIDE MAN, a pretty good movie which has held up well while rewatching it on cable recently. As a matter of fact, if rights weren’t an issue, you could easily imagine PELHAM rewritten as an INSIDE MAN sequel. Not that I want to give anyone any ideas.

And I don’t mind Tony Scott’s films, especially THE LAST BOY SCOUT, TRUE ROMANCE, ENEMY OF THE STATE and sections of MAN ON FIRE. But he’s the wrong guy for this. It’s not gonna be a New York movie and it’s gonna be too slick, which is the antithesis of what this movie should be. It’s not gonna have the ultra-propulsive score by David Shire, one of the best ever in my opinion. And it won’t top that ending, one of my very favorite final shots of all time.

For those sad souls who have never seen it: One afternoon in New York, four heavily armed gumen hijack a subway car and demand one million dollars in cash…IN ONE HOUR…or they will begin executing the hostages. Walter Matthau is Lt. Zachary Garber of the New York Transit Authority, the one who gets roped into communicating over the radio with the gunmen, the ultra-cool Robert Shaw is the mastermind. The city of New York plays itself, at once pissed off and disbelieving of what the hijackers are insisting they will do—as Dick O’Neill says, “What the hell do expect for their lousy thirty-five cents, to live forever?” The gunmen all refer to each other using color code-names, a plot point no doubt later lifted for RESERVOIR DOGS. No one has any idea how the hijackers plan on getting away but as Jerry Stiller suggests, “They’re gonna fly the train to Cuba.”

There’s no point in my going on. It’s another movie that’s gonna be made, it’ll be soulless, it’ll be bad, it’ll play on cable a million times, it’ll be ignored by the people who know. Who know how enjoyable the original is. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you put it on your Netflix queue. It’s a tremendously fun ride. It always will be.



Anonymous said...

can doris roberts play the mayor's wife's mother?

Mr. Peel said...

Hey, if you know the right people you could probably make it happen. So get to work on that!

The Shamus (formerly TLRHB) said...

That's the same way I felt about "3:10 To Yuma." And they made it, despite my many protests!

Mr. Peel said...

I'm embarrassed to say that I've never seen the original 3:10 TO YUMA. I'll try to rectify that soon enough. Of course, I went and saw the remake without batting an eye and liked it very much. It just proves that we all have our own limits of what should be allowed to be remade or redone or whatever. For me, I guess it's PELHAM.

ARBOGAST said...

Best movie line ever:

"Pelham 1-2-3 is in motion.

PS. It was my honor one day in New York to find myself sharing a downtown 6 car with the late, great Mr. B-b-b-brown.

Mr. Peel said...

Glad you stopped by, Detective Arbogast. I once saw Doris Roberts in a restaurant...of course, that in no way compares to seeing one of the hijackers actually in a subway car. Fantastic. Just thinking about such a thing makes me miss New York.

wyndham said...

"Come along dummies..."

I'm very much agreeing with you on both Pelham, Mr. Peel - and Unforgiven, which never fails to give me a lump in my throat.

Strangely enough, I read somewhere that an Inside Man sequel was planned. Denzel, Clive Owen - it wouldn't be a huge leap to transpose those characters into an update. Inside Man was, of course, a huge riff on Pelham which remains my favourite movie about NY and its people. I envy your poster.

Nice blog, by the way.

Mr. Peel said...


Many thanks for the compliment. Always happy to welcome another Pelham One Two Three fan. Whatever happens with the remake, at least we'll still have the original.

"Get dressed, Al. I'll do the jokes."

Vince said...

I could have left this comment on any of your posts, but I had to go with the one on Pelham, which I also regard as the best movie ever made. You've got yourself a great blog here. I'm happy to have found it.

Mr. Peel said...


All PELHAM ONE TWO THREE fans are welcome here. Glad you like the blog. Thanks very much!

Kazza the Blank One said...

ok I'm going to ask a really *dumb* question.. (after only seeing the end of the movie after I stopped watching a video).. how does Matthau's character know the dude in the apartment at the end was one of the hijackers..?

Mr. Peel said...

Let's just say that Matthau's final line pays off what he had been saying to the hijackers over the radio throughout and the familiarity tipped him off.

And now Travolta's been cast in the Robert Shaw role. The horror...