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Retro Rental: New York and ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
MGM

[Each week, depending on what's in theaters, what's in the news or what's on his mind, film critic James Rocchi brings you The Retro Rental, an older film on disc or download.]

Like the caged bird looking to the sky through their bars — or, less poetically, a kid in a small Canadian town back when we had winter and meant it — I saw a lot of the world through movies; I saw parts of the world I thought I would never see. And the city you saw on film the most — in my house, anyhow — was New York.

Time has passed, and I got to see New York — that shining city of ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’ and ‘Manhattan,’ the never-was neon of ‘Guys and Dolls,’ the grainy-zoom urban wild of ‘Shaft,’ a city whose streets have welcomed the singing sailors of “On the Town” and The Muppets and the world-devouring Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and the elegant sadness and dawdling of Holly Golightly. And time passed for me and New York.

Our parent company is located in New York, as are many people many of us know. And our thoughts are with them. In 2001, New York’s strength and resilience were tested and proven yet again, as ever, and surely Hurricane Sandy’s damages and tragedies will move into the past not long after the waters recede. Because when I read about ICU nurses carrying children down stairs in the dark, or first-responders of any name or nature moving toward danger to help those in its path, or of neighbors helping neighbors to make sure their kids have some kind, any kind of Halloween, I know that while crisis and tragedy have a cost, human decency and the spirit of New York have a value.

I knew that from one of my favorite movies when I was a kid, one of my favorite movies now, ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.’ If you need a break from Weather Channel coverage and want to see one of the greatest New York movies ever made, find the 1974 original. Walter Matthau is the hangdog subway cop on-duty when Robert Shaw and some accomplices hijack a subway car and say they need a million-dollar ransom within an hour or they will start killing people. And of course, there are ramifications — from the halls of the mayor’s home (where the mayor has a cold because, of course, the mayor has a cold) where a hilariously smooth Tony Roberts manufactures spin to the microcosm of the subway car itself, where the melting pot bubbles over.

Short-tempered and quick-fused, ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ is the kind of movie we don’t get anymore — or, if we do, we get them as remakes — but when I was a kid, when movies were my dream of New York, it told me how amazing New York was as a crazy-wonderful place long before I saw the city with my own eyes. Come rain or Robert Shaw — and, seriously, come any challenge — we send our best wishes and hopes to New York and the surrounding areas. It’s the least we can do in thanks for all the ways the movies of New York — never mind the glorious real city and its residents itself — have given us so many wishes and hopes.

‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ is available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant, Blu-ray and DVD. Because it is awesome.

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