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.

Fail-Safe – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. Fail-Safe is currently available on instant Netflix.

Fail-Safe

WATCH: Fail-Safe (1964) – NR – Not rated

“Director Sidney Lumet transforms the doomsday scenario played for laughs in Dr. Strangelove into a taut thriller. When a computer glitch sends a bomber crew on a suicide mission to Moscow, the U.S. president (Henry Fonda) agonizes over how to stop it. Will Fonda tell the Russians to shoot down the plane? Global thermonuclear war may hinge on his decision.”

“I say every war, including thermonuclear war, must have a winner and a loser. Which would you rather be?”

“Whats the difference between 60 million dead and a hundred million dead?” – “Forty million”

Fail-Safe shares a remarkable number of resemblances to the film we reviewed yesterday, Dr. Strangelove. They were both released in 1964. Both are directed by celebrated directors and feature wonderful casts.

Both are based on cautionary novels about the possibility of error causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plots are remarkably similar and Kubrick wisely stipulated that his film be released first. Dr. Strangelove had already been delayed as a result of the Kennedy assassination.

While thematically identical, the two films could not be further apart in tone. Where Dr. Strangelove is a droll satire, Fail-Safe is a deadly serious examination of a nuclear issue and cold war politics.

Director Sidney Lumet does a wonderful job with ensemble casts in tense situations. He deals heavily in characterization and his movies are usually very light in physical action. This predisposition suits this topic well.

Lumet uses his 12 Angry Men star Henry Fonda as the President. This is wonderful casting of course coming after decades of Henry Fonda playing American everymen. Fonda is both powerful and sympathetic here in very tense situations.

Walter Matthau is exceptional as an extremely hawkish professor. Even while working on (okay mostly exacerbating) the current crisis, it is clear he is positioning himself for advantage in a future situation. Dan OHerlihy is our nominal hero, a General with a conscience. A young Larry (Dallas) Hagman plays an interpreter caught in the middle.

The stark black and white cinematography works well for the bleak depiction of possible nuclear tragedy. Sidney Lumet avoids any kind of flashiness that might detract from the drama. The movie is, not surprisingly, somewhat heavy-handed.

To show how serious the subject is, there is no music whatsoever during the film. A horrifying twist three quarters of the way in the movie, while somewhat difficult to swallow, delivers quite a punch to the proceedings.

Netflix presents Fail-Safe in HD for those not viewing it on a computer. This is a good slice of Cold War paranoia that had the misfortune of following the brilliant Dr. Strangelove. While worth recommending, it is nowhere near as good as Dr. Strangelove so watch that one first.

People Watch: This movie was quite the launching pad for a number of careers. This is the debut not only of Fritz Weaver but also of comedian Dom Deluise and Dana (MacGyver) Elcar.

Earthquake – Nature Gone Wild! week

This is Nature Gone wild! week. Earthquake is currently available on instant Netflix.

Earthquake

PASS: Earthquake (1974) – Rated PG.

“Academy Award winners Charlton Heston and George Kennedy star in this 1974 box office blockbuster. When a massive earthquake hits Los Angeles, construction engineer Stewart Graff (Heston) must try to rescue his father-in-law boss, Sam Royce (Lorne Greene), who’s trapped in his own building. Meanwhile, tough cop Lew Slade (Kennedy) and motorcycle daredevil Miles Quade (Richard Roundtree) are fighting for their lives.”

“Earthquakes bring out the worst in some people.”

Earthquake is co-written by Mario Puzo. Puzo not only wrote The Godfather and Godfather II but also Superman and Superman II. While Mario Puzo is clearly capable of writing Oscar caliber scripts, this is not one of them. The individual stories are terribly written.

The main story involves a love triangle between Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and Genevieve Bujold. It is quite fun to see Ava Gardner hurling venom at Charlton Heston throughout the movie.

When I first saw Remy Royce-Graff (Ava Gardner, 52 in 1974) castigating her husband Stewart Graff (Heston, 51), I was a little relieved and surprised that Heston’s wife was about his age. Shortly after that Stewart goes to see Denise Marshall and sure enough she’s played by attractive 32 year old Genevieve Bujold.

George Kennedy apparently felt he wasn’t macho enough in the Airport series of movies so here he is a cop who *gasp* doesn’t play by the rules. When he parodies this character later in Police Squad, it isn’t much different. There is even a police car point of view chase early in the film eerily similar to Police Squad.

Richard Roundtree (Shaft can you dig it?) plays a heroic Evel Knievel-type character. Strangely they mention that he has a girlfriend who is never shown. My guess is they wanted to attract urban audiences of the time while at the same time playing it safe in the heartland.

I will say that all the unique 70s hair and clothing styles do tend to distract from the proceedings. Dallas fans will have a hard time recognizing Victoria Principal as a tight T-shirted poodle haired brunette.

Earthquake does not make the mistake that Killer Wave made. The Earthquake is front and center. There are minor tremors shown early on that cause a few strategic casualties. The big event hits about the halfway mark and is quite a showpiece. The Earthquake portions of the film are quite entertaining.

Earthquake won Oscars for Best Sound and Special Achievement Award for Best Visual Effects. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration. Cinematography is hard to judge given the butchering of the film (see below).

I understand that Netflix can’t supply this movie in Sensurround! (the shake your seats audio provided in some theaters for this film and Midway) but it would have been nice to see this in its original aspect ratio (2.2:1). Netflix appears to have acquired a Pan and Scan/Full screen version.

The drama here is so overwrought as to be fun in a perverse way but I still can’t recommend watching this unless, like me, you automatically have to see any disaster movie.

People Watch: Walter Matthau (billed here as Walter Matuschanskayasky) is hilarious as a drunk. His outfit should have won an Academy Award by itself.