Film: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Thank you for choosing the New York Subway.

Garber: You won't believe it.
Rico: You know me, I'll believe anything.
Garber: The train's been hijacked.
Rico: I don't believe it.

A 1974 Heist Film, starring Walter Matthau as Lieutenant Garber and Robert Shaw as (leader of the hijackers) Mr. Blue.

Remade in 1998 (starring Edward James Olmos), and 2009 with Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

The 2009 version of The Taking of Pelham 123 splits the Walther Matthau character of Zachary Garber into two persons (Denzel Washington as MTA Dispatcher Walter Garber, and John Turturro as NYPD Hostage Negotiator Detective Camonetti). Both have an ordinary day thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the hijacking of a New York Subway train that is in Garber's charge.

John Travolta co-stars as Ryder, the criminal mastermind who, as leader of a highly-armed gang of four, including a subway-knowledgeable henchman, (played by Luis Guzman), threatens to execute the train's passengers unless a large ransom is paid within one hour. Adding to the trouble, Ryder refuses to speak to Detective Camonetti, forcing Garber to negotiate with him on his own. As the tension mounts beneath his feet, Garber employs his vast knowledge of the subway system in a battle to outwit Ryder and save the hostages.

This Film Provides Examples Of:

  • All Is Well That Ends Well: In the end of the 2009 remake Garber shoots a man dead. This is a big deal for a transit worker or any human who had never even used a gun before - let alone shot a person, but doesn't come up as it would mess with the Happy Ending.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Ryder in the remake. Probably a case of Depraved Bisexual, since he's quite proud of his female conquests.
  • Arc Words: "Gesundheit."
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: A trained NYPD sniper shows exceedingly poor trigger discipline by resting his finger on the trigger while awaiting the order to take the shot. See I Just Shot Marvin in the Face below.
  • Ax-Crazy: Grey. Why do you think they threw him out of the Mafia?
  • Baby Carriage: In the original film the police car racing to bring the money to the station by Mr. Blue's deadline crashes after swerving to avoid a bicycle vendor.
  • Badass Boast
    Blue: I once had a man shot for talking to me like that.
    Grey: Well that's the difference between us. I've always done my own killing.
  • Bait and Switch: The criminals order all lights set to green and the police cleared off every station to South Ferry, to make it look like they're planning to escape via the river. Actually the train has been rigged to move by itself while the criminals slip out an emergency exit.
  • Big Applesauce: Where else is someone gonna hijack a NYC subway train? Also the original novel was written by a born and bred New Yorker.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: NYC's dysfunctional '70s glory is showcased in the original, albeit to mostly-comedic effect.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Garber in the original is told to look after a group of Tokyo subway executives who follow him around obediently without speaking. He quickly gets sick of playing tour guide and, assuming they don't speak any English, begins insulting them at random points in his descriptions of things. When the hostage situation occurs, they say goodbye in flawless English and leave.
  • Brick Joke: In the original the unpopular Mayor doesn't want to visit the scene of the hijacking because he'll be booed. Later in the film he does show up (offscreen)—and:
    NYPD Official: [over the sound of loud booing] Jesus, it's the goddamn Mayor.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: In the 2009 version, when on a runaway train car filled with screaming passengers a young man takes a moment to tell his girlfriend he loves her via webcam.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The sneeze. The repeated warnings to avoid the third rail.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The hippie hostage who turns out to be an undercover cop.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • The original had quite a high quotient of expletives for a mainstream 1974 release. One character even says "How the hell can you run a goddamn railroad without swearing?!"
    • Ryder in the remake, to the point where one could mistake him for having motherfuckin' Tourette's.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: In the 2009 remake Ryder is actually a former Wall Street tycoon convicted for fraud. The hostage taking was not for the ransom itself but due to the resulting suspicions of terrorism causing the stock market to plummet, which Ryder makes a massive profit from via put options.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Almost everyone in the original. Even the hostages get in on it.
    Old Man: Excuse me, sir. Would you mind telling us how much you're getting?
    Mr. Blue: What's it to you, sir?
    Old Man: Well, a man likes to know his worth.
    Mr. Blue: One million dollars.
    Old Man: That's not so terrific.
    • Blue offers Lt. Garber a quarter million dollar bribe to let him go.
    "No thanks, my accountant says that I've accepted enough for this fiscal quarter."
  • Death by Adaptation: Bud Carmody, the conductor, who survives in the novel.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • A train board controller early in the film walks through an unlocked gate into the tunnels. After all, "Who's gonna steal a train?"
    • In the remake, the mayor, informed about the hostage situation, says that he'll take the subway to get there because "It'll be faster."
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Lt. Garber sees the hippie cop lying wounded on the ground.
    "We'll have an ambulance here soon, miss."
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mr. Gray - one of the hijackers - was fired from the Mafia for being too violent. The novel explains that Mr. Gray's taste for violence got in the way of running protection rackets effectively; the victims felt no obligation to cooperate since he tended to beat them whether they paid the protection money or not.
  • The Everyman: Garber.
  • Evil Brit: Mr. Blue in the original.
    Garber: He's got a very English accent. He might be a fruitcake.
  • Expecting Someone Taller:
    • In the 1974 movie, jokingly employed when Garber meets Inspector Daniels (to whom he's only spoken via radio) face-to-face for the first time and discovers he's black.
    • In the 2009 remake, Ryder says to Walter Garber that he was taller than expected.
  • Failsafe Failure: The Dead Man's Switch in the subway cars are defeated quite ingeniously.
  • Famous Last Words:
    Ryder: You're my goddamn hero.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: On finding that New York has no death penalty, Blue electrocutes himself rather than face life in prison.
  • The Film of the Book: The original and both remakes.
  • First Day from Hell: The train conductor in the original.
  • Heavy Sleeper: One of the hostages in the original is a drunken woman who remains sound asleep and oblivious to what's going on until the end.
    (after the train screeches to a halt) "*hic*... 42nd Street already?"
  • High Voltage Death: The mastermind chooses to commit suicide rather than be captured by the police, because if convicted he was likely to face life in prison, and he preferred dying to that. He fries himself by stepping on the live third rail in the subway.
  • Hired Guns: Mr. Blue in the original is an out-of-work British mercenary.
  • Hollywood Law: In the 2009 version, Ryder makes Garber confess to taking the bribe. People around him speak as if that is an actual confession, but no one brings up that this confession was made under duress - Garber would have a very solid case in any court of law to have that particular confession thrown out as evidence because if he continued to deny the allegations a man would have died - which is far worse than taking a bribe.
  • Hostage Situation: Played with, hostages are used as "commodities" and traded over to the police for one million dollars.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: But instead of a road bump, it's a rat. Someone still gets shot in the face, though.
  • Info Dump: Several explanations of how subways work. It's handled fairly well.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted throughout the entire movie. Every person except two dies from being shot multiple times.
  • Instant Emergency Response: Averted in the 1974 version.
  • Lampshade Hanging: "Why the fuck didn't we use a helicopter to transport the money?"
  • Lemming Cops: In both the 1974 and 2009 versions the escort bringing the money is rushing, fitting the mood, however throwing caution to the wind so Reality Ensues.
  • Made of Iron: Averted; the hippy cop lies stunned for a few minutes after jumping off the train while it's moving.
  • Mood Dissonance: When TBS offered the 2009 version On Demand - they had their Commercial Pop-Up saying "TBS Very Funny" in the lower right all through a movie that includes seven on-screen deaths and terrified hostages.
  • More Dakka: More overt in the 1974 film, made before every movie hoodlum started toting an automatic weapon.
    Blue: Now, ladies and gentlemen, do you see this gun? It fires 750 rounds of 9mm ammunition per minute. In other words, if all of you simultaneously were to rush me, not a single one of you would get any closer than you are now.
  • Never Going Back To Prison: In the remake Ryder is set against going back to prison, and eventually forces a Suicide by Cop rather than be captured.
  • New York City Cops
  • New York Subway: The setting of the heist.
  • No Name Given: None of the hostages are given names. In the original film, they're listed in the credits as "The Secretary", "The Mother", "The Old Man", "The Homosexual", "The Pimp", etc.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Walter Matthau's character is somewhat dumbfounded when the high-ranking officer he's been talking to on the radio turns out to be black. He also mistakes the hippie cop for a woman because of his long hair.
  • Noble Demon: Mr. Green, to an extent. He is the most sympathetic out of all the criminals, and genuinely doesn't want to kill anybody. However, he also gleefully indulges in one million dollars he gets at the end with the deaths of his three cohorts, seemingly leaving behind any remorse for his actions.
  • Not So Stoic: Lt. Garber finally gets tired of the transit supervisor's crap.
  • Oh, Crap:
    • Mr. Green, twice in the final scene — when the police knock on his door and he has to hide the money, and again when he sneezes.
    • The cops carrying the ransom realise the SWAT police are hiding in the tunnel with them.
    "We've got four submachine guns in front of us, and all these jokers behind us. I feel like I'm walking into the OK Corral."
    • The passengers realise that every hijacker left the train, so there's no-one driving it. The Old Man tries to assure them that the safety system will trip when there's a red light. Someone shouts that all the lights are green, and then everyone really starts to panic.
  • Perfect Health:
    • Averted in the original with Mr. Green, who has a bad cold (and whose sneezing leads to his capture at the end).
    • The Mayor is also shown to be suffering from a cold.
  • Porn Stache: Ryder.
  • Pull the Thread: A recognizable sneeze gives Mr. Green him away.
  • Race Against the Clock: Blue gives the authorities one hour exactly to comply with his demands, and makes it clear he's not going to compromise.
  • Raised Catholic: (Remake) Ryder who, for a robber, talks about God an awful lot.
  • Red Herring:
    • The repeated comments that the plainclothes cop on the train might be a woman. Actually the cop is the hippy.
    • In 2009, the Deputy Mayor points out how the ransom is 10 million because that's the maximum they can withdraw without paperwork hassle. The Mayor asks how the deputy mayor knows this but is cut off, leaving the viewer wondering.
  • The Remake: In 2009.
  • Runaway Train: The hijackers turn the train into a runaway as part of their escape plan.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: (remake) Ramos sees there's a padlock on the power switchboard and starts griping. Bashkim just draws his gun and shoots it.
  • The Sociopath: Ryder in the remake. He spends his time threatening the hostages, killing them when orders aren't following, and generally acts like a dickhead who frequently curses.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Denny Dotle, the train motorman. In the book, he is the hostage who gets executed. The movie basically just swaps his and Bud's roles.
  • Speech Impediment: Mr. Brown talks with a noticeable stutter.
  • Squick: Garber's In-Universe reaction to Blue electrocuting himself.
  • Suicide by Cop: Bashkim and Emri in the remake.
  • Technology Marches On: The remake had quite a job in adapting the hijackers' plan to fit improvements in transit security since the '70s.
  • Tempting Fate
    • For years after the movie came out, New York Transit Authority dispatchers sought to avoid dispatching any train from Pelham at 1.23.
    • Averted in the movie when Green exclaims (on seeing the ransom) "All that money. I'm going to die today." He's the only member of the criminals to survive.
  • Theme Naming / Code Name: The hijackers all have codenames that correspond to eye colors: Mr. Green, Mr. Blue, Mr. Gray, and Mr. Brown. The remake changes Mr. Brown to Mr. Black, spoiling the eye color theme. Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs features color-themed codenames as an homage.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Caz Dolowicz in the original tells the hijackers to fuck off and tries to board the train. No prizes what the hijackers do to him.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal
  • Who Is Driving?: Played for Drama when the passengers suddenly realise all the hijackers have left the train, which is racing down the line at an ever increasing rate.
  • You're Insane!: Lt Garber to Blue after he repeatedly threatens to shoot a hostage if anything goes wrong.
    "I hope you take this in the right spirit but when all this is over you should seek psychiatric help."

Alternative Title(s):

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three