Tyler seems to be a bit overly sensitive about a comment that I made once, evidently about how his short had nothing to do with his film.  Well, it probably didn’t!  Come on, man.  Factual statement.  Get over it!  Besides, if you’re going to show short films like, oh, say, “Time For Sushi” then you’re just inviting that sort of thing.  To wit:

I mean, seriously.  What is this?  We’ve got Japan under siege by some sort of invading army of naked androgynous CGI people with preternaturally limber spines.  Where do they come from?  What do they want from us? Why don’t they leave me alone?  All I know is that they don’t in fact eat any sushi.  Nor do they have anything whatsoever to do with Tyler’s feature film, the original 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, directed by Joseph Sargent.  Before we dive into the film, let me just start by saying that the opening credits (and really, the whole film) feature the awesomest ’70s soundtrack ever.  I mean, get a load of this:

The gentleman that you see exiting the taxicab at the end of that sequence is the pseudonymous Mr. Green.  You can tell, because his hat is green, a detail which is true for all of the pseudonymous hijackers in the film but one which I did not even realize until I saw somebody else point this out on the web.  I blame the low color depth in the print – I mean, I’m pretty sure this was not a Technicolor film.  (One might ask what would be the point of vivid colors in a film largely set in a subway, and that’s probably a valid point.)

Groucho nose not included

I mean, look.  Is that “green”?  That’s pretty darn brown to me.

Reservoir Dogs stole all our characters

Is Mr. Blue’s hat blue with a black ribbon?  I dunno.  Or should he be called…Mr. White?


All right, who’s manspreading?!?

At any rate, you may have noticed that I said something about hijackers and a subway.  In fact I did!  That’s what this movie is all about.  We’ve got four hatted, bespectacled, and mustachioed men with automatic weapons who have taken a subway train (technically a single car, having detached it from the remainder of the train) and are demanding a one million dollar ransom on terribly short notice (with a late fee of one hostage per minute) from the city of New York for the safe return of the 15 passengers aboard.  And these folks mean business – they don’t shy away from killing a subway supervisor who comes trampling down the tracks to confront them, nor do they have any compunction about assassinating the conductor when a policeman fires on them from the dark of the subway tunnel.

Felix Ungar, you’ve done it again!

Of course, we’ve also got the other side of things – the subway operations center and the police, with Walter Matthau playing the Transit Authority Police Lieutenant who is basically the liaison between the authorities and the hijackers.  He’s faced with a couple of questions.  One is how the hijackers have managed to know seemingly everything about the subway system.  He assumes (correctly, it turns out) that they have an inside man – probably a disgruntled former employee.  (It turns out that this disgruntled former employee is none other than Mr. Green.)  Another is what to do about the knowledge that there is an undercover cop in the hijacked car.  But the more serious question is this:  How do they plan to get away with this?  They’re in the subway!  So, dear reader, think about that one for a minute, and let’s have an intermission.


Hey, look!  It’s Jerry Stiller!  And he looked old in 1974!

Now back to our regularly scheduled movie review.  Well, if you figured that the hijackers would use the knowledge of their inside man to defeat the subway car’s “deadman switch” and send the car hurtling down the tracks without them while they climb out of an emergency subway exit hidden under a sidewalk grate, you’d be right.  So once the million dollars is delivered, they head down the track a bit, conspicuously stop, and then put their plan into motion.  They divvy up the cash, exit the train and set it going, they remove their clever disguises (to reveal Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Hector Elizando!)…and then things go a bit south.  The high-strung and untrustworthy Mr. Gray refuses to leave his gun behind before exiting the subway, leading to the ringleader Mr. Blue killing him.  Meanwhile, the undercover cop has leapt from the moving car and kills Mr. Brown before being non-fatally shot by Blue himself.  Green is told to escape while Blue goes to take care of the cop, but just before he can shoot him point blank, he’s caught by Walter Matthau.  I hate it when that happens!  And rather than face life in prison (since New York didn’t have the death penalty), he electrocutes himself on the third rail.  Hey man, if that’s what you gotta do.

Sternumentum ex naribus?

And for denouement, the only thing left to do is to track down the inside man.  Given a list of potentials, Matthau eventually comes upon Mr. Green himself.  And Mr. Green nearly gets away with it, except at the last minute as Matthau is leaving, he sneezes – just like he had been doing all day over the subway intercom.  Wah-wah-wah-waaaaaaaah!  The end.

It’s an entertaining movie, with some great acting, and as I’ve already mentioned, an epic soundtrack.  I can even discount the (gentle) sexism and racism as a product of its time (and, to be fair, at least the gentle racism is twice shown to backfire on Matthau).  But the plot really kind of leaves something to be desired.  Perhaps it was actually fine in its day, but in 2017 I think movie audiences expect either a lot less (Boom!  Smash!  Zoom!  CGI!) or a lot more from their plots.  Think of the complicated machinations that bring about the action in, to pull a movie out of a hat, Now You See Me, and compare that to this film.  What’s your devious plan again?  To send the train ahead without you and exit through a surface grate?  Yeah, like that’s gonna work.  And of course it doesn’t.  I was hoping for some really super clever plan but in the end they only came up with the one that would have occurred to an eight-year-old.  “It would have worked,” Egon said, “If you hadn’t stopped me.”  Which is precisely the problem, they got stopped.

You know, I don’t often like rooting for the bad guy, but I would have liked this film a lot better had the hijackers actually found a way to escape that I couldn’t think up.  Oh well.  It was a good ride anyhow.