Friday, March 7, 2008
Pay the Two Dollars
I can remember realizing one day that screenwriter Peter Stone was responsible for both CHARADE and THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE and, my head spinning from that realization the the same person was responsible for such dialogue and plotting, I thought about the possibility of maybe contacting the man. I could tell him what a fan I was of his work, of his place in film history and maybe in conversation I could learn a little about how he did what he did, maybe pick his brain a little. I think there was a brief period around 2000 where this was actually possible through certain people I knew but I never took advantage of that opening, to my everlasting regret. He died in 2003.
These thoughts ran through my mind while watching THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE at the Aero on Thursday night. Last fall I wrote a lengthy tirade against the impending remake and maybe part of the reason I went was not just to enjoy the rare occurrence of seeing it in a theater again but maybe to savor that one last time when I wouldn’t have to refer to it as the ‘the original’. The lousy remake for ABC in ’98 couldn’t accomplish that but there’s nothing I’ll be able to do against the firepower of Tony Scott and Denzel Washington. Nobody’ll be able to hear me over all that noise. So for this one final time I could go to a theater, thanks to the American Cinematheque, and experience the 1974 classic as simply PELHAM ONE TWO THREE.
And I got Hector Elizondo, alias Mr. Gray, alias Joe Welcome, in person for a Q & A after the movie (surprisingly, the evening at the Aero was not directed by Garry Marshall). No great revelations emerged from the talk—he talked about how most of the film was shot in an abandoned subway station in Brooklyn, how intimidating the intelligence of Robert Shaw was, that they played ping pong during down time on the set, pointed out the total lack of graffiti on the trains in the movie per Transit Authority insistence (hijacking and murder was, presumably, acceptable). Elizondo seemed most engaged when asked specific questions about his approach to his craft, from saying how he had to approach Mr. Grey as a person with no scruples whatsoever to talking about some of his extensive stage work in New York back in the 60s and 70s. While he obviously looks back fondly on those days in New York, he’s of course better known now for roles in many, many Garry Marshall films and while allowing that he misses New York he mused, “Not liking L.A. is like not liking ice cream.” If he didn’t get that line from Marshall, maybe it’s at least it’s a good indication of why they get along so well.
A fitting thought considering the Santa Monica location we were viewing PELHAM in was as far removed from the New York 70s as you can get. It may not be one of the best movies of 1974, or of the 70s overall, but it is one of the most enjoyable. It feels like it simply nails the tone of what that New York was just at the cusp of my conscious memory, a place which is now far in the past. It nails the attitude, it nails the sarcasm. Matthau is incredible but so for that matter is the entire cast, down to the smallest roles. And the most dynamic, propulsive parts of David Shire music are some of my very favorite moments in all of film scoring.
I don’t want to hear about the remake. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to acknowledge it. And since this is my blog, not a goddamn democracy, to steal a line from Deputy Mayor Warren LaSalle, that’s the way it’s going to be. It’s the least I can do for Peter Stone and the inspiration he’s provided me.
“Screw the goddamn passengers! What the hell do they expect for their lousy 35 cents, to live forever?”