The Taking of Pelham One Two Three – Trains = Money week

I love trains and it turns out there are quite a few train movies I haven’t covered yet so this is Trains=Money week. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (the original) is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – Rated R

Deep in the bowels of New York City, a gang of men led by “Mr. Blue” (Robert Shaw) hijacks a subway car and radios the transit authority with a demand: Deliver $1 million in cash in the next hour, or they’ll shoot one passenger each minute. Now, it’s up to Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) to keep a cool head, secure the money and deliver the ransom before time runs out. Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman round out Mr. Blue’s crew.

“Now, then, ladies and gentlemen, do you see this gun? It fires 750 rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition per minute. In other words, if all of you simultaneously were to rush me, not a single one of you would get any closer than you are right now. I do hope I’ve made myself understood. “

I like Denzel Washington but the remake of this movie was a steaming pile of garbage, full of completely nonsensical action and actions. Please give the excellent 1974 original a try – just don’t mind the quaint million dollar ransom.

Walter Matthau is fantastic as the beleagured Lt. Garber. He is a great example of how 70s stars could be effective without being a “pretty boy”. Thankfully he keeps his comedic persona to a minimum. Jerry Stiller (Ben’s father) aids Garber as Lt. Patrone.

Robert Shaw plays an excellent, very nuanced villain in Mr. Blue who not only has to deal with the police and passengers but also keep Mr. Green from cracking under pressure while keeping Mr. Grey’s psychopathic tendencies in check. He does all this with military precision and is quite cool.

Martin Balsam does a good job as the jittery Mr. Green as does Hector Elizondo as the maniac Mr. Grey. Earl Hindman rounds out the villains as Mr. Brown.

The action is intelligent and, unlike modern movies, does not always revolve around the two central characters. David Shire provides a nice driving beat for the tense situations. The movie was filmed in New York’s subway with many of the scenes filmed at or near the current location of the New York City Transit Museum.

People Watch: Instead of featuring a brief role by an up-and-comer, note that this film is where Quentin Tarantino got the character names for the Reservoir Dogs criminals.

Jaws – Shark week

With this being 4th of July week and all the tar balls from the BP spill scaring people away from the beaches, I thought I would spend the week covering other reasons to scare you away from the beaches. This is Shark week. Jaws is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Jaws (1975) – Rated PG.

“Director Steven Spielberg virtually invented the summer blockbuster with this white-knuckle adaptation of Peter Benchleys novel about an insatiable great white shark that terrorizes the townspeople of fictional Amity Island. John Williams legendary score punctuates the tension as the police chief (Roy Scheider), an oceanographer (Richard Dreyfuss) and a grizzled shark hunter (Robert Shaw) seek to destroy the bloodthirsty beast.”

“Martin, it is all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we have got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

It is hard to know where to begin with this classic. Jaws set off the summer blockbuster craze. While it would be eclipsed shortly by Star Wars, Jaws deserves props for being there first.

Steven Spielberg had shown glimpses of being a master filmmaker with his made-for-TV movie Duel and the flawed but interesting Sugarland Express. Here he knocks it out of the park and rockets to stardom.

He uses some wonderful tricks. The scene where Sheriff Brody witnesses a shark attack on the beach and the camera telescopes his horrified face is wonderful. A later scene where our heroes go out to sea on the Orca is brilliant – it is shot through a window and framed by a pair of shark jaws.

A large part of the credit for the incredible suspense generated in the film has to be given to Bruce (named after Spielbergs lawyer) the mechanical shark. Bruce was constantly malfunctioning so Spielberg had to shoot most of the attack scenes in various point-of-view styles without showing the shark. Spielberg handles it masterfully, sometimes with camera as killer, sometimes just using other props – as when the holiday roast bait does not exactly work as planned.

The score by John Williams is amazing. Even today everyone recognizes the central Jaws theme from just a few notes. Quite rightfully Williams won his second of five Oscars for this. His other wins were for Fiddler on the Roof, Schindlers List, E.T. and Star Wars.

Besides the technical wizardry of Spielberg, the John Williams score and the realistic monster hunt story by Peter Benchley, the other main reason that Jaws works so well is the incredible interplay between the three main leads.

Roy Scheider, a very underrated actor, plays Sheriff Brody, a man literally out of his depth. Brody is an island sheriff who is afraid of the water. While Scheider does a wonderful job and this is the role he is most famous for, his best roles are actually in Sorcerer and All That Jazz.

Robert Duvall turned down the role of Brody. Charlton Heston wanted the role but was rejected (wisely, as his performance would likely have ruined the careful balancing of the three main leads). Heston was so furious that he vowed never to work with Spielberg and in fact turned Spielberg down for a role in 1941.

Richard Dreyfuss plays marine biologist Matt Hooper. Not only does he also do a wonderful job but his offscreen feuding with co-star Robert Shaw adds a lot of wonderful tension in the relationship between Hooper and Quint. Between this, Close Encounters, and The Goodbye Girl, Dreyfuss would likely have been a major star if he had not self-destructed.

Other actors considered for the role of Hooper included Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Jon Voight and Jan-Michael Vincent.

Our third hero is the crusty old sea captain Quint, played (yes again wonderfully) by Robert Shaw. While he does steal most of the scenes he is in, Shaw also interacts beautifully with Scheider and Dreyfuss.

Spielberg wanted Sterling Hayden for the role but Hayden was in such trouble with the IRS that he was unable to take the role. Lee Marvin was offered the role but turned it down. Ironically, like Hayden, Shaw was also in trouble with the IRS and fled the country after filming was complete.

Lorraine Gary plays the only female lead, Ellen Brody. She is quite good but is not given too much to do, especially as the affair between Hooper and Ellen in the book is dropped in the movie script. She does have the virtue of being in more of the Jaws movies than any other actor.

While I normally refrain from commenting on the ending, I will say that reportedly the changes to the ending from the book so disturbed Peter Benchley that he had to be banned from the set. I appreciate the literary spin Benchley put on his ending but the one Spielberg filmed is quite thrilling.

I wholeheartedly recommend this classic film for the three of you who have not seen it.

Unfortunately I am not sure what is up but the Netflix transfer was very pixelated for the opening scene and for many other scenes. The picture quality on the rest of the film is quite good but every time you start to appreciate the clarity *boom* another pixelated scene. This is one of the worst transfers and certainly the most inconsistent I have seen on Netflix.

Trivia: The name of Bad Hat Harry productions, producers of the wildly successful House TV series, comes from a line early on in Jaws.

People Watch: Steven Spielberg himself can be heard as an Amity Lifestation Worker and scriptwriter Carl Gottlieb plays Meadows. Author Peter Benchley has a cameo as a reporter on the beach.

Swashbuckler

Well on day 4 of Swashbuckler week, I might as well address the movie titled Swashbuckler. Swashbuckler is available on Netflix instant play.

Swashbuckler

Pass: Swashbuckler (1976) – Rated PG

“A high-seas adventure unfolds as buccaneer Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw) saves his pirate buddy, Nick Debrett (James Earl Jones), from execution and rescues distressed noblewoman Jane Barnet (Genevieve Bujold). The sword-wielding trio proceeds to Jamaica, where they try to free the islanders from the swaggering, dictatorial Lord Durant (Peter Boyle). In true swashbuckling fashion, romance and hidden treasure round out the story.”

While not staggeringly awful like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Swashbuckler is sadly not very good. James Goldstone’s direction is rather pedestrian. This is a shame as I’m very fond of the star Robert Shaw and Genevieve Bujold and James Earl Jones are both capable actors. Peter Boyle, normally quite a good character actor, is terrible here as the Governor. The music is loud and horribly intrusive – almost playing like a calliope every time swords are drawn.

While the idea of the pirate captain being the protagonist and the governor the villain is a common trope of pirate movies, here it is taken to ridiculous extremes. The film is meant to be rollicking fun but the pirates are completely Disneyfied – they never attack any ships, they attack the port only because one of their number is about to be executed, they steal booty that’s already previously been stolen (confiscated), and so on. Ned the captain even gives his opponent another sword when the opponent is disarmed.

The Governor is so evil that he cheerfully kills one of his sparring partners for scratching him with a sword and plays with ship models in the bath. He says at one point, “I serve one master. His name is darkness!” They even go so far as to have him be a pedophile – I suspect he may also hate puppies. Beau Bridges plays his second-in-command, an officer who makes a number of blunders named Major Folly (*groan*).

People Watch: Horror favorite Sid Haig plays a bald pirate and Anjelica Huston has a small part.

Robin and Marian

Two years after filming two of the best swashbucklers ever made back-to-back – The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (sadly not available on Netflix), Richard Lester made this gem. Robin and Marian is currently available on instant play.

Robin and Marian

WATCH: Robin and Marian (1976) – Rated PG

“Whatever became of Robin Hood after his famed tale of good deeds ended? Now you can find out, in this sequel that takes place years after Robin and his merry men bested the Sheriff of Nottingham. After following Richard the Lionhearted to the crusades, Robin (Sean Connery) returns to Sherwood Forest to find things drastically changed. Audrey Hepburn plays the stalwart Marian … who’s joined a nunnery!”

This is an absolutely wonderful counterpoint to yesterday’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. While that film celebrates youthful exuberance and heroics, Robin and Marian is a testament to the aging and fading of heroes and the power and danger of love. Robin and Marian’s cast is as impressive as The Adventures of Robin Hood’s cast. Charismatic and wry, Sean Connery is riveting as an aging Robin Hood. Thankfully Marian’s role is considerably beefed up as Audrey Hepburn returned to the screen from a nine-year absence to make this and she is absolutely amazing. Robert Shaw is marvelously sympathetic as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Nicol Williamson is heart-breaking as Little John.

The film was written by James Goldman, author of The Lion in Winter and Nicholas and Alexandria and much of the credit for this complex exploration of love, devotion, and heroism is deservedly his. While Robin and Marian are still obviously in love, Robin is torn between his love of Marian and his love of glory. Marian is torn between her love of Robin and despair over his nature. Little John clearly loves Robin and knows that Robin is part of what defines him. Even the Sheriff seems to love Robin after a fashion. The first act plays out as a microcosm of the rest of the movie. Robin loves his King, Richard (the ever wonderful Richard Harris) loves his subject Robin as well as glory and Little John loves Robin.

People Watch: Look for Ian Holm in a small role as King John.