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Taking Of Pelham One Two Three: 42nd Anniversary Special Edition, The

Kino // R // July 5, 2016
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 8, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Based on John Godey's 1973 novel of the same name, Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) remains one of the most influential "New York" films in a decade absolutely packed with competition. This lean, suspenseful thriller wastes almost no chances during its brisk 104-minute lifespan: it gets right down to business and doesn't let up, playing out in near real-time as the well-planned hijacking of a subway train full of passengers unfolds. Featuring top-notch performances by a number of notable character actors, crisp editing, a terrific score, and the unmistakably dangerous atmosphere of NYC during this raw, rugged era, it's held up perfectly well during the last 42 years and helped draw the blueprint for dozens of modern heist films in the process.

The story goes like this: four similarly dressed passengers, each color-coded by name, enter a downtown-bound subway train at different stops. Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) has loads of experience but a nasty head cold; Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo) is hot-headed and leers at the female passengers; Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) is the strong, silent type; and ruthless Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) calls the shots. Within minutes, they have control of the train and speak with Transit Authority's Lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau), demanding $1M in cash and threatening to shoot hostages after a one-hour window. Their scheme---especially the escape, which by all accounts should be impossible---is just crazy enough to work thanks to no shortage of planning, with the inevitable game of cat-and-mouse driving the film's taut narrative as Garber and his team attempt to outsmart the heavily armed crooks.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a muscular adaptation of great source material, owing as much to earlier works like The French Connection (Pelham shares the same editor and cinematographer) as it's lent to later films like Dog Day Afternoon and even Die Hard. Yet Pelham still feels entirely original, surviving countless imitators and no less than two separate remakes (one a 1998 made-for-TV movie, the other a 2009 adaptation starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta). As for why it's held up so well, take your pick: the performances are universally excellent, the salty dialogue is extremely memorable, Peter Stone's screenplay doesn't cut any corners, and David Shire's jazzy score (a mixture of "control and chaos", as the composer describes is during an included interview) is too perfect for words. Bottom line: after four decades of dissection, this critically acclaimed and commercially successful production is better seen then read about. If you have yet to enjoy The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, do it already.

This unusually-named "42nd Anniversary Special Edition" (no doubt in reference to Grand Central Station, as the sticker resembles a subway tile) arrives on Blu-ray from Kino, managing to one-up MGM's 2011 Blu-ray. The A/V presentation hasn't changed---not that I'm complaining all that much, mind you---but we're treated to over two hours of new and exclusive extras that, at the very least, offer a decent amount of support for this deserving slice of 1970s cinema. It's not the best re-issue in recent memory, but old and new fans alike will be glad to have it.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

As this disc appears to have the same A/V specs as MGM's 2011 Blu-ray, those expecting any kind of improvements will be disappointed. But I rather like this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer, as it preserves the film's look very well with a muted color palette, modest image detail, and noticeably "scruffy" grain structure. Textures and depth are limited, although this is a flat film shot in close quarters and mostly indoor locales. Occasional dirt, debris, and flickering can be spotted along the way, but these are hardly distracting and, like some of the other mild issues here, almost suit the film's lived-in appearance. Edge enhancement, compression artifacts, and excessive noise reduction don't seem to be an issue. Either way, what's here is pleasing if you keep your expectations in check or are a die-hard fan of 1970s cinema.

NOTE: The promotional images featured on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent the title under review.

Same goes for the audio: this lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix splits The Taking of Pelham One Two Three's original one-channel track into a 2.0 spread with clear dialogue and effects. Though limited by its source material---especially in the low end, as there's almost none of the ominous "rumble" associated with subway travel---this is a competent presentation that I'm glad wasn't given a faux-surround remix. Thankfully (and unlike several recent Kino Blu-rays), optional English subtitles are included during the main feature...but for whatever reason, they bend over backwards to omit all the swearing. Gotta protect all those deaf kids watching 42 year-old crime thrillers.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The basic interface includes separate options for playback, subtitles, extras, and chapter selection (there are 8), with quick loading time and minimal pre-menu distractions. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase and includes terrific poster-themed artwork on both sides. No inserts or slipcover are included, unsurprisingly.

Bonus Features

The main attraction is a new Audio Commentary with actor/filmmaker Pat Healy and film historian Jim Healy. These two brothers have no professional connection to the film (it's described by them as a "fan commentary", and Pat even mentions that his first time watching it was a VHS rental in the mid 1980s), but that doesn't stop them from delivering an informative and entertaining track that discusses the cast, crew, production, and other behind-the-scenes tidbits in modest detail. On a related note are three new Interviews with members of the cast and crew: actor Hector Elizondo (12 minutes) speaks articulately about his "audition" and co-workers, composer David Shire (9 minutes) talks about his rare improvisational approach to the jazzy score, and editor Jerry Greenberg (8 minutes) divulges a few problems and last-minute lucky breaks, as well as his good fortune to edit the film with veteran Bob Lovett.

Also on board is an enjoyable collection of Still Images and Posters presented as an animated slideshow (2 minutes), along with two Trailers (the 1974 original and one from "Trailers From Hell" with Josh Olson, 5 minutes total) rounding out the package. Add all of this up with the commentary and interviews, and there are approximately 2.5 hours of exclusive extras here; not bad, considering MGM's 2001 DVD and 2011 Blu-ray only featured the trailer.

Final Thoughts

Joseph Sargent The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is absolutely cracking 1970s cinema; not only did it help draw the blueprint for countless modern heist films, but it's a terrific time capsule of New York City during one of its most raw and rugged decades. Featuring fantastic performances, a memorable score by David Shire, a great pace and structure, plenty of action, and one of the best one-punch endings of all time, it's aged surprisingly well during the last 42 years and, by most accounts, runs circles around Tony Scott's 2009 remake. Kino's long overdue Special Edition Blu-ray is a solid upgrade of MGM's 2011 Blu-ray; the A/V specs are identical, but the addition of 2.5 hours of exclusive extras makes this a much more well-rounded package. Highly Recommended for old and new fans alike.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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