The Taking of Pelham 123 and The Taking of Pelham 123!

No, that is not a misprint. And no, I didn’t watch the same movie twice—although I’ve been known to do that with a very few carefully selected movies. In this case it’s simply that I watched two versions: the 1974 original and the 2009 remake.

The original is better. Memory tells me that it was made in black-and-white, which of course is not true, but it feels true. It’s that sort of film.

The most noticeable difference is the technology. In fact, technology change is probably the whole reason that there was a perceived need for a remake. We are reminded of Sue Grafton’s observation that she set all her mysteries in the ’80s because the plots wouldn’t work in the age of cellphones.

I am no judge of acting, and I am clueless about judging the contributions of actors vs. the contributions of the director when judging a movie. So let me just say that the 1974 cast—including Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Lee Wallace—was certainly effective in making the hijacking of a subway train plausible. (“If they hijack the train, where would they go?” you sensibly ask.) Or maybe I need to credit the director, Joseph Sargent. What do I know? In any case, it works, and not only for urban transit fans like me. Maybe I’m just old.

Then there’s the 2009 cast—including Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, and James Gandolfini. There is nothing particularly wrong with them—but, as I say, I am no judge. Or maybe director Tony Scott was uninspiring. Given the era, it is not surprising that there is a large number of fast cuts and highly charged action scenes. Fine, but it doesn’t add up to the impact of the original version.

By the way, a highly scientific poll of large numbers of my friends and acquaintances—well, three actually—shows me that most people don’t know how to interpret the title. So here’s the answer. Every subway train is NYC is designated by a word and a number; this one left Pelham Bay station at 1:23 PM, hence Pelham 123. You’re welcome.

Categories: Movies & (occasionally) TV