Format: Amazon Watch Party
Decade: 1970's (and sooooo 1970's)
Director: Joseph Sargent
I saw this one the first time at the Paramount with absolutely zero context. Back in the day, I'd just show up for whatever was showing during the Summer classics series, and it's how I first saw some of my "new favorite" films since college. Third Man. Sunset Boulevard. and a host of others.
And, yeah, I really like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1974). It's a tidy caper movie, sharing screen time between the heisters and the heisted, but with no set up - just the execution. So, when four guys take a subway car hostage on a weekday afternoon in New York, it makes no sense to the guys running the subway - blue collar schlubs whose jobs it is to literally make the trains run on time - and it takes a minute they don't have to figure out what the hell is going on. Let alone - how the baddies think they're going to get away with it (they're trapped in a tunnel, too).
The gang is a classic heist gang. The master mind. The wild card. The dutiful sergeant. The guy who is there as the inside man. But part of what makes the movie is that the guys on the other side of the mic aren't hostage negotiators - they're public employees suddenly in a very weird position, running communications from the heisters all the way to the Mayor. And, of course, they're a bunch of 1970's New Yorkers.
As the world I live in is project and operational management, I get a kick out of heist films. The heist = a project - and the plan for the heist, accounting for everything that can occur and keeping your stakeholders managed sure feels familiar. The opposite side is operations, which are interrupted by the interference of the heist. And - man, as I am wont to say - people are terrible in a crisis.
One detail I like about the film is that no one is working in synch on the MTA or government side. From the mayor dithering and worrying about votes to the internal disagreement in the subway tracking office where Matthau is trying to keep things in hand. I assure you, there's almost always someone in a crisis who is more bent out of shape that they can't do their usual job than aware of the actual unfolding situation than makes rational sense.
The movie was released in '74, so the occupants of the jobs likely have been sitting in that office since the late 1950's. There's a casual racism and sexism pervading the scene and characters, and the film does comment on it - albeit not in the way we're used to in 2020. Brace yourself for some stereotypes (especially among the hostages) and among the main cast. It's a movie about an imperfect world that has to suddenly deal with the unknown.
It's a tight film - the run time almost occurs in about half of real-time. We don't worry too much about the home lives of the characters, and we don't even really know the motivations or what led up to the heist. But what we do get is a wild mix of talent in the film which makes it work. Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Jerry Stiller, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Doris Roberts, Julius Harris, Kenneth McMillan, and a bunch of other faces you'll recognize (I finally identified Robert Weil as also appearing in Hudsucker Proxy after it's bugged me every time I've watched this movie previously).
Anyway, worth your time some time.