This exciting, suspenseful drama of a subway car held for ransom begins with Matthau, a New York transit cop, giving some visiting Japanese a guided tour of the subway control center. Matthau mocks and insults the party, not realizing that his guests speak English. Meanwhile, in the
subway tunnels of New York, a train pulls out of the Pelham station at 1:23 p.m. Aboard are four men wearing identical hats, glasses, mustaches, and raincoats. The group, led by Shaw, separates one car from the train, taking the conductor (Broderick) and the passengers on board hostage. Their
demands are chillingly simple: the city must pay $1 million ransom in exactly one hour or else they will begin killing hostages. A dialogue begins over the radio between Matthau and Shaw as the detective tries to negotiate a safe release for the hostages. One of the kidnappers, Balsam, is
suffering from a bad cold, and Matthau blesses him with each sneeze. Shaw eventually has Broderick killed when the demands have not been met. The ransom money is finally delivered, and the gang make their plan to escape.
Though Matthau and Shaw spend most of the film communicating through a microphone, the tension between the two is well developed. The editing back and forth is sharp, accentuating the two strong performances and adding to the suspense. Shaw is excellent as the cold-blooded killer, with a steely
performance that fascinates as well as frightens. The one low point is the slice-of-life group of passengers aboard the subway. Each hostage is a stereotype, ranging from a mother with two bratty children to a streetwise pimp, to Gorrin's know-it-all old man. The direction is sharp, using the
small, darkened world of the subway to its fullest, and backed by Shire's exciting jazz score that complements the suspense. The film was advertised in many large cities with posters displayed in subway stations, but this ad campaign emphasizing every commuter's nightmare was dumped when subway
riders across the country complained.
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- Released: 1974
- Rating: R
- Review: This exciting, suspenseful drama of a subway car held for ransom begins with Matthau, a New York transit cop, giving some visiting Japanese a guided tour of the subway control center. Matthau mocks and insults the party, not realizing that his guests speak… (more)