APES ON FILM: One Million Dollars an Hour—The High Price of Living in THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

Posted on: Mar 30th, 2023 By:

By Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman
Director: Joseph Sargent
Rated: R
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Region: Region Free 4K Ultra HD disc, Region A Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: December 20, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit); English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Run Time: 104 minutes


There’s a remarkable efficiency to the traditional hijack film; everyday people going about their everyday business, suddenly find themselves at the mercy of a few greedy, entitled, weaponized maniacs. This scenario presents a most basic and human conflict that requires little backstory or explanation of motives. It’s a thrill of disruption we can all relate to and hopefully only ever view from a vicarious stance. Joseph Sargent’s 1974 feature THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is textbook hijacking that tasks one of the world’s largest transportation authorities with the simple job of coughing up a million bucks for eighteen lives.

Based on the novel by John Godey (aka Morton Freedgood), the plot is as basic as a hijacking plot needs to be: Robert Shaw’s Mr. Blue and his three blandly color-coded partners descend upon a New York City subway train, dressed alike and armed with machine guns, ready to bill the City a million in cash for an hour of their time at the cost of a handful of voters lest the money be delivered one minute past the time allotted; then it’s one body per minute until the bounty arrives. The MTA savvy Mr. Green (Balsam) is essential in helping facilitate communications and mechanics while hot-headed Mr. Gray (Elizondo) and quiet Mr. Brown (Hindman) run crowd control on the single car of eighteen people the men have separated from the rest of the train. Between telling people to “shyaaad-up” back at NYC Transit Police Headquarters, Lieutenant Zachary Garber (Matthau) does his damnedest to negotiate with the inflexible Mr. Blue and his very specific demands.

What plays out is not only the rescue of eighteen innocent people but evidence of the power a handful of thugs can have over one of the biggest cities in the world. The math doesn’t add up. The problem isn’t gun-toting ruffians with dollar signs in their eyes (those types are forever ubiquitous); the problem is a city on the brink with major money troubles and a crumbling infrastructure. All it takes is four armed men to bring the entire town to its knees.

New York City is its own worst enemy in this film. City authorities are complacent, lazy, and in the case of the mayor (Lee Wallace) who is sick in bed, downright fearful. Mr. Blue and Mr. Green are pulling the city’s strings, while Mayor “Mr. Yellow”—wrapped in yellow blankets and pajamas—frets over a paltry million dollars (a little over six million in 2023 dollars) as he watches game shows from his bedroom in Gracie Mansion. Meanwhile the Transit Police remain nonplussed by the subterranean standoff, and lest we forget the undercover officer on the train who only reveals himself at the last minute, even then of little help. It’s the bureaucratic stranglehold of civic duty that results in the singular heroic act of the film from motorman Caz Dolowicz (Tom Pedi) who charges headlong into the fray, and pays the ultimate price for a city who can’t get its act together. Its gross mismanagement demands a different set of priorities from its servants making Dolowicz indifferent to the hijacking. “I’m warnin’ you, mister, that’s city property you’re fooling around with!” Dolowicz shouts to Mr. Gray. “Why didn’t you go grab a goddamn airplane like everybody else?”

Heroics aside, it’s the fear of a teeming, displeased public at large that scares the mayor into finally handing over the ransom money. Desperate more for acceptance than a solution, the mayor’s wife eloquently puts things in perspective for him by noting that paying the ransom ultimately means “18 sure votes.” And as the mayor agonizes over marginal votes and petty cash, Police are gathered at subway entrances to not only aid in apprehending the hijackers, but to control the angry crowds for when the mayor finally arrives on scene.

Cooler heads prevail… sort of. While Misters Blue, Green, Grey, and Brown cripple the entire city, Lieutenant Garber is literally all colors as indicated by his multicolored plaid shirt. And while also a byproduct of poor city management—note the obnoxious yellow tie around his neck—he eventually casts his bureaucratic nature asunder and realizes a few simple lies to the hijackers will buy everyone a little more time.

New York City administration fumbles its way through the entire movie. Even as the cash is being delivered, police are subject to the city’s natural disorder and must contend with traffic issues and car accidents. They get no dispensation for being the authority. The police are as much at the mercy of the city as the city is at the mercy of Mr. Blue and his cohorts.

You won’t find a cast of such grizzled performers anywhere else so perfect for 1970s New York. Shaw, Matthau and company have been through the wars and are the brutal sages from the days when old men still ran barber shops. They don’t make ‘em like those guys anymore.

And how can we forget that pounding, iconic David Shire score that is New York itself transformed into sound. Shire evokes structure amongst chaos with a jazzy funk that echoes the turbulent city we see on film. The singular riff that bangs out the credits almost sings to us, “ONE, TWO, THREE.”

Kino Lorber presents THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE on 4K UHD disc. The 4K features a brand new commentary from film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson. This single new supplement is also included on the Blu-ray Disc in the set which contains the original bonus features from Kino’s 2016 home video release.

The film bets big on the entertainment value of regular people in trouble who are counting on an unreliable system to bail them out. It’s a visceral conceit that transcends crazy people, loaded weapons, and irresponsible civics, and appeals to the simple desire of going about our business and the power that authorities have to ensure that freedom. An amazing film, a great presentation. Recommended!




When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly.

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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