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Film / The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

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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 adapted from John Godey's thriller novel published the previous year, directed by Joseph Sargent and 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 (starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta). The 2009 version of The Taking of Pelham 123 splits the Walter 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 City Subway train that is in Garber's charge.

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:

  • Affably Evil: Mr. Blue in the original. He is unfailingly polite to the hostages, rebukes Mr. Grey for using excessive force and harassing a female hostage, is angered when Mr. Brown is wounded and subsequently killed, makes sure that Mr. Green gets away but doesn't even get angry when Garber corners him. He only kills three people, one of them a colossal Jerkass who had become a liability to his team and another because he had made a threat to do so unless his conditions were met, and they were not met, so he had to carry it out.
  • 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.
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  • Ambiguously Gay: Ryder in the remake. Probably a case of Depraved Bisexual, since he's quite proud of his female conquests.
  • Arc Words: "Gesundheit."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Garber: In the course of a normal week, the average TA policeman deals with such crimes as robbery, assault, murder, drunkenness, illness, vandalism, mishegossnote , abusiveness, sexual molestation, exhibitionism...
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: In the 2009 remake, 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? Plus, he likens murder to scoring points in a sports event.
  • 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.
  • Bald of Evil: Mr. Grey is bald and probably the worst of the hijackers.
  • Badass Moustache: All the hijackers have fake moustaches as their disguises.
  • Berserk Button: Don't hurt Mr. Brown in front of Mr. Blue. When Brown is wounded by one of the cops, Blue kills a hostage. When Brown is shot and killed by the undercover cop,, Blue loses all thoughts of escape and attacks the cop.
  • 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.
  • Big Bad: Mr. Blue, aka Bernard Ryder, is the leader of the hijackers.
  • 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, gets ever more insulting towards them, casually referring to them as "dummies" and "idiots". When the hostage situation occurs, they say goodbye and thank him for the tour 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.
  • The Brute: Mr. Grey is the most vicious of the hijackers and has the least respect for Mr. Blue.
  • Captain Obvious: Mr. Blue. Justified in that he has no intention of giving away the hijackers' intentions, so he simply states the obvious.
    Hostage: Excuse me, mister. Don't you think we should be let in on what's happening?
    Mr. Blue: You're being held by four very dangerous men armed with machine guns.
    Hostage: Ask a foolish question...
  • 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. The subway train's "dead man's feature".
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The hippie hostage who turns out to be an undercover cop.
  • *Click* Hello: Mr. Blue makes his intentions known to the motorman by pulling his gun on him.
    Mr. Blue: I'm taking your train.
  • 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.
  • Corrupt Politician: The mayor in the original is implied to be this. When he protests to his deputy that the city doesn't have a million dollars to use as ransom money, his deputy replies "Empty one of your Swiss bank accounts."
  • Creepy Monotone: Mr. Blue talks in this.
  • 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.
  • Decoy Getaway: 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.
  • The Dragon: Mr. Green is Blue's second-in-command, confidant, and the most important person in the scheme.
  • 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."
  • Driven to Suicide: In the original film, Mr. Blue fries himself on the third rail when he's told New York won't be able to oblige him since the death penalty's no longer on the books.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Lt. Garber sees the hippie cop lying wounded on the ground (after wondering the entire time if it'll be a man or a woman).
    "We'll have an ambulance here soon, miss."
  • Eureka Moment: Garber manages to do some quick thinking when the car carrying the ransom money crashes with no time left to spare, when he realizes that the hijackers don't know that the car has crashed.
    Police officer: If they know the truck is wrecked, how can they expect us to be on time?
    Garber: They don't know anything down there. How can they know anything when they... that's it.
    <switches on the radio with Mr. Grey>
    Garber: Pelham One-Two-Three, the money has arrived. I repeat, the money has arrived!
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mr. Grey was fired from the Mafia for being too violent.note 
    • When Mr. Grey hits the black hostage with his gun for nothing more than a sarcastic remark, Mr. Blue says sharply "Mr. Grey!"
  • The Everyman: Garber.
  • Evil Brit: Mr. Blue in the original.
    Garber: He's got a heavy 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. He says that he was expecting someone shorter.
    • In the 2009 remake, Ryder says to Walter Garber that he was taller than expected.
  • Extreme Doormat: Mr. Grey considers Mr. Brown one of these.
  • Failsafe Failure: The Dead Man's Switch in the subway cars are defeated quite ingeniously.
  • Famous Last Words:
    Ryder (2009): You're my goddamn hero.
    Caz Dolowicz (1974): The Hell with you, I'm comin' on board!
    Mr. Grey (1974): Blow it out of your ass, Mr. Blue.
    Mr. Blue (1974): Pity.
  • 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.
  • Finger Gun: The cop who followed Dolowitz into the tunnel pretends to shoot at the train with his finger as the money arrives. The second time he does it, another cop farther down the tunnel shoots Mr. Brown in the arm, prompting a small, inconclusive volley of shots.
  • First Day from Hell: The train conductor in the original. It ends with his death, shot in the back by Mr. Blue.
  • Frame-Up: Mr. Green (1974) was framed for the actions of Dirty Cops and lost his job sometime ago. He wants revenge and that's why he's in on the scheme.
  • Gender Lift: Mr. Brown in the 1998 remake is Ms. Brown.
  • The Generic Guy: Mr. Brown is the least distinctive of the hijackers, apart from having a Speech Impediment and that Mr. Blue trusts him.
  • Going Down with the Ship: An exchange between the driver Doyle and Cas Dolowicz, who is infuriated to find Doyle has left the train and is leading some passengers back to the station.
    Doyle: They were gonna kill me!
    Dolowicz: You're like the captain of the ship, you're supposed to go down with it!
  • Groin Attack: During the initial takeover in the 1974 original, Mr. Grey threatens to "shoot [a passenger's] pee-pee off" while he guards Mr. Brown threatening the conductor.
  • 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.
  • In the Back: The conductor and Mr. Brown are killed with a shot to the back.
  • Jerkass: To a certain extent, all the hijackers, but the openly racist and trigger-happy Mr. Grey gets the gold star.
  • Just Train Wrong:
    • In the 2009 version, the train is made of R142A cars, that have a train horn similar to that used by locomotives on Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad.
    • Also in the 2009 version, the car number on the exterior of the lead car is #8837. But in the motorman's cab, the car number is #7426. The #7400 number range is correct for the R142A rolling stock, but #8837 would be in the #8800 number range, which is assigned to the larger R160B cars used in the BMT and IND divisions.
    • When the conductor is watching the passengers get on and off, she is in the fifth car of the train. This would be correct if the train were comprised of R46 or R68 cars that the BMT and IND use (which are 75 feet long and can only operate as eight car trains - two four car sets- in regular service, thus, the fifth car of the train would be the cab unit for the second set), which in a ten car train would be the second A-unit in the first five car set.
    • R142 and R142A cars are permanently linked into 5-car sets and cannot operate as single units. The only subway cars capable of operating as such are a select number of R62A cars that are assigned to the IRT Flushing Line and the 42nd Street Shuttle.
  • Lampshade Hanging: "Why the fuck didn't we use a helicopter to transport the money?"
  • Lecherous Licking: Mr. Grey does towards another passenger before the takeover.
  • 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.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Brown's exchange with a passenger:
    Passenger: Would you gentlemen mind telling me what you're doing?
    Brown: Yeah I would!
  • Missed Him by That Much: Green escapes from the subway via the emergency exit moments before Garber arrives.
  • Money Fetish: In the final scene, Mr Green is back at his apartment lying on his bed surrounded by the all the cash he's retrieved, gleefully revelling in it. Then there's a knock at the door...
  • 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.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: Mr. Blue's interactions with the other hijackers. He's relatively nice to Mr. Brown, whom he trusts, and Brown getting hurt is a Berserk Button for Mr. Blue. For Mr. Grey, he's the least tolerant toward him and eventually shoots him during a dispute during the escape. Mr. Green is somewhere in between; Mr. Blue is a little stern when Green nearly gives up details about himself to the motorman at the beginning, but Green is shown as Blue's confidant and Blue makes sure that Green makes a clean getaway while Blue stays behind to kill the undercover cop.
  • 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.
  • Non-Uniform Uniform: All the hijackers in the original wear similar hats, glasses, and have mustaches; their long coats are different colors: blue, green, grey, and brown.
  • Not So Stoic: Lt. Garber finally gets tired of the transit supervisor's crap.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The passengers when the hijackers pull out their submachine guns.
    • Garber's reaction when he realises that all four of the Japanese subway executives speak good English, having just spent the past half an hour insulting them.
    • 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 fuckin' 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The Mafia's reason for kicking out Mr Grey (mentioned in the novel) is he was bad for business. While running one of their protection rackets, he tended to beat the people up whether they paid or not, so most of them just stopped paying in the end.
  • Psycho Party Member: Mr. Grey is the most trigger-happy and violence-prone member of the group, to the point that Ryder has to blow him away when Grey utterly refuses to follow a step of the plan wherein they get rid of their guns to mix amongst the New York crowd as they escape, knowing that this will inevitably lead to a shootout. Grey is also mentioned in the novel to have been a Mafia member, but he had been expelled from the Mafia because his constant acts of brutality got in the way of their racketeering — because knowing that Grey was going to brutalize them whether they paid or not, the people just decided to not pay anymore.
  • Pull the Thread: A recognizable sneeze gives Mr. Green 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.
  • Revenge Before Reason: In the original Mr. Blue could have escaped along with Mr. Green, had he not decided to climb down onto the track and kill the person who shot Mr. Brown, which delayed him long enough for Garber to arrive.
  • 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.
  • Spanner in the Works: The undercover cop on the train. Were it not for him, three of the hijackers would probably have got away.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Denny Doyle, 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, which Grey mocks while in an argument with Mr. Blue.
  • Squick: Garber's In-Universe reaction to Blue electrocuting himself.
  • Suicide by Cop: Bashkim and Emri in the remake.
  • Swiss Bank Account: When the mayor complains that the city cannot afford to pay a million dollar ransom, one of his advisers tells him to "open one of your Swiss bank accounts".
  • Tempting Fate
    • Early in the 1974 movie, a repairman asks why a gate isn't locked. Cas Dolowicz retorts: "who's gonna steal a subway train?"
    • 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.
    Mr. Grey: I warned you, stupid! shoots Dolowitz
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: A plainclothes transit cop is believed to be one of the hostages, but no-one can find out who he is. 'He' might even be a woman, it's suggested. It turns out to be the hippie, who in a Brick Joke is mistaken for a woman by the main protagonist because of his long hair.
  • Vehicle Title: Pelham 1-2-3 is a subway train.
  • Victory Through Intimidation: On most versions of the film (being noticeably absent on the Tony Scott version) one of the hostages says that they should all rush Mr. Blue (the hostage-takers' leader) and take him down, only for Mr. Blue to point out that he's armed with a top-of-the-line sub-machinegun and that, stuck inside of a subway car as they are, if they all were to rush him they would be bunched together and vulnerable to his return fire. " would all be dead before you got close to me". None of them ever try.
  • The Vietnam Vet: The black hostage, not that it earns him any respect from Mr. Grey, although it seemingly does from Mr. Blue (having been in the Army) and admonishes him.
    Mr. Blue: Be quiet! Nothing will happen as long as you obey my orders.
    Black Guy: That's what they said in Vietnam, and I still got my ass shot full of lead.
    Mr. Grey: Shut your mouth, nigger, [hits him with the butt of his gun, splitting his lip] and keep it shut!
    Mr. Blue: Mr. Grey!
  • Wham Line: "Gesundheit."
  • 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 123


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