Another forgotten gem of ’70’s American cinema that lives in that wonderfully gritty wheelhouse of films (The French Connection, Serpico, etc.) celebrating a now-long ago dangerously sinister and grimy New York City- when junkies, hookers and muggers roamed menacingly in a Manhattan before Disney stores took over.
Based on an equally excellent best-selling novel by John Godey (a pseudonym) that came out the year before the film was made, the normally comedic Walter Matthau commands the screen as the Transit Authority supervisor who presides over the kidnapping of passengers on the NYC subway system by armed gunmen played by an amazing who’s who of Hollywood character actors: Robert Shaw (soon to be gobbled by a shark in Jaws), Martin Balsam and Hector Elizondo.
Tense, darkly humorous, and always staying true to its classic cinematic hard-boiled crime predecessors (later on a certain new breed of filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino was sure to be influenced by this film as he draped his criminals in Reservoir Dogs with the names of colours (Mr Pink, etc.) as seen in Pelham.
Last but not least, the film boasts one of the decade’s greatest musical soundtracks by jazz-trained composer David Shire- sinister horns bleat out their meaty attack mixed with a hard-driving percussion and dissonant notes all the while serving as a character in the film itself.
Woefully under seen, this classic crime caper is truly one of the best movies of the ’70’s and can rightfully take its place in the pantheon of films that need to be rediscovered at once. Also, don’t miss the appearance of Ben Stiller’s (and George Constanza’s) dad, Jerry, in a small but pivotal role.
Article Written by Ross Munro