Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Film Review: Taking of the Pelham 123

by Eric Green

A TALE OF TWO FILMS: 1974 to 2009

To elevate a film to the "ICON" level requires a lot of ingredients: An unusual location; New York City; compelling actors and an unusual story. There is no disputing that "Taking of the Pelham 123" is on that level.

Originally produced in 1974 this film gives an insight into NYC that few films were and are able to offer. Maybe that is why it remains so popular.

There was an attempt to do a television movie on the original novel, but it fell flat.

Now, in 2009, 35 years later, the film is back on the front burner of Hollywood films. This time it is a mega-film Hollywood event.

John Godey

The start of any cult film begins with the writer of the book that the film is based on. In this case, John Godey is the novelist, but it turns out that that is not his real name. That was a pseudonym for his real name: Morton Freedgood. Freedgood used the Godey name to write non-serious novels. Born in 1913, Freedgood died in 2006 at the age of 93. Not much is known about him, which also helps the mystique.

Directors and Producers

The 1974 version was directed by Joseph Sargent who did mostly television work after 1974 and even before. Gabriel Katzka and Edgar J. Schenick produced the film. In 2009, Tony Scott both directed and produced the film. Three other producers are: Steve Tisch, Todd Black, and Jason Blumenthal.

Tony Scott has long history of producing high intensity, major actors Hollywood films. If you like hose kinds of film, he did not disappoint on those points.

Both films contribute to the New York mystique. No question that the 1974 film's dark intensity and rather limited scope had one kind of delivery. The 2009 film utilizes the special effects and gimmicks that normally kill films. Fortunately, Scott did not succumb to most of them.

Both directors had superior actors to work with. And, both did a great job in utilizing their talents.

Sargent's cast of Walter Mathau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Jerry Stiller and a very large, excellent, supporting cast kept you at the edge of your seat. The face of NYC is deeply in these characters,

Scott had even more high visibility, super stars at this fingertips: John Travolta, Denzel Washington, Luis Guzman, James Gandolfini and John Turturro. Scott's supporting cast was of the same size as Sargent's and with the same New York genre'.

All of the actors in both films did a truly great job.

Fortunately, both directors kept the film to a short, crisp period of time. There was no lulls.

True to the Reality

Both films brought viewers into the world of transit in the tunnels of NYC. But, it must be said that Scott, probably the screenwriter, Brian Hedgeland, took liberties with the on-the-ground reality that the 1974 screenwriter, Peter Stone didn't.

It was probably not really necessary to have the No. 6 train go to Coney Island. That is not where the No. 6, IRT goes….it ends at the Brooklyn Bridge. It would have taken a lot of track switching to get the No. 6, IRT on the Coney Island direction.

Mathau and Travolta

But, in the same way the Walter Mathau dominated the 1974 version, John Travolta does the same in the Scott version. Mathau was amazing; and, Travolta does the same.

This remake was worth it, even with the flaws.