The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
As I write this we are two days away from the release of the remake of this classic. I just had to see the original again, to refresh my memory about how good it was. Maybe the new one will be good, too (though I’m not optimistic, from the preview I saw), but I will guarantee you this: It won’t be as good as this one. More action packed? No question. In the original, a police car goes out of control, rolls over, and skids a ways on its roof. In the preview I saw a police car roll over at least 12 times before even touching the ground, and then fall off an overpass, if that wasn’t enough action for you. More in-your-face? Pretty much a certainty. Robert Shaw is controlled menace. He never so much as raises his voice, and yet he exudes danger. John Travolta, who takes Shaw’s part, looks like a loud-mouthed, psychopathic, show-off thug. Oh, well. We’ll see.
What I hadn’t remembered is how funny it is. Not funny all the way through, of course; the scenes in the captured subway car are very intense. But everywhere else it’s an inspired cast of New York characters, wisecracking, mordant, never seeming to take anything too seriously, always ready to face a new disaster, knowing that a new one will always come in this crazy town. And for once, Walter Matthau doesn’t get all the best lines, as he did in movies like The Odd Couple and The Fortune Cookie. He is the calm center around which all these maniacs revolve, and he does a terrific job of it. I love Denzel Washington, but I seriously doubt he can top this performance.