The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Jerry Stiller
Extras: Theatrical trailer, Collectible booklet

’The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ is an engrossing thriller featuring an exceptionally strong cast. Despite some technical hiccups in its new DVD incarnation, this 1974 nail-biter still packs a wallop, recognizing that a cool, logical mind in the service of evil is much more terrifying than an impulsive punk with a twitchy trigger finger.

In the film, four terrorists hijack a New York subway train and demand one million dollars delivered within one hour. For every minute’s delay, they will execute one of the 18 hostages on-board. Faced with the impossible deadline, transit chief Lt. Zack Garber matches wits with terrorist leader Mr. Blue to contain the deadly situation. As if playing chess, with the intricacies of the New York subway system as pieces, Garber and the terrorists continually try to outmaneuver each other… right up to the thoroughly satisfying final fade-out.

The DVD’s 2.35 widescreen, non-anamorphic transfer preserves the irony of ’Pelham’s’ Panavision compositions (wide images depicting closed spaces). For the most part, the video image displays good color fidelity, as befitting the less saturated color processes embraced by filmmakers in the 1970s. However, the transfer suffers from edge-enhancements, varying degrees of contrast (noticeable in some of the dark tunnel scenes) and excessive grain, all of which occur only intermittently during the presentation.

The soundtrack also shows its age. In Dolby Digital mono, dialogue frequently peaks and the music, a 70s-sounding percussion-heavy score by David Shire, occasionally overcomes the dialogue. With all the yelling by frustrated transit officials and the screaming by terrified hostages, my center channel speaker definitely got a workout. Special features include the original theatrical trailer and a collectible booklet that is tucked in the DVD’s case. The trailer is a little beat up, but definitely conveys an urgency that would have attracted movie patrons.

MGM Home Entertainment is to be commended for bringing ’The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three’ to DVD. As the format continues to enter the mainstream, the importance of having films like ’Pelham’ share shelf space alongside the DVDs of ’Titanic’ and ’Wild Wild West’ cannot be underestimated.