“What’s wrong dude?! Ain’t you never seen a sunset?!“
One of the things I’ve missed the most since our imposed hibernation of the past year set in has been visiting New York City. Because of business relating to the festival and my involvement on the board of my prep school, The Peddie School, I have to travel east a minimum of three times a year, sometimes more. I’m quite a different person in the Big Apple. I’m more myself. I’m much calmer, I sleep better and I act less neurotically. Could it be that in the context of all the nervous energy of Manhattan, I am indeed more zen by comparison?
My love for New York came out of the movies. In Panama, as a young man I saw films like “Klute” (1971), “The French Connection” (1971), “Mean Streets” (1973), “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975), “Annie Hall” (1977) and “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) amongst others, that albeit gritty showed a cinematic view of a turbulent, vibrant, at times depraved yet still alluring metropolis. The decay, crime, counterculture and cultural upheaval all simmering in one place and represented in films was enticing to me. I wanted to be part of it.
My mother took my brother and I to see “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” in 1974 and what an exciting world this was. It was the first time (I was ten years old) that I recall being intrigued by the notion of parallel editing or cross-cutting. Parallel editing is a technique whereby cutting occurs between two or more related actions occurring at the same time in two separate locations or different points in time. It is used to create a sense of a chase, navigating between two or more scenes; for example, one establishing a person running away, and another cut showing you what’s after her. Editors Gerald B. Greenberg (Oscar winner for “The French Connection”) and Robert Q. Lovett keep the constant action moving from the Transit Authority command center in Manhattan, the Police Department, the Mayor’s Office, numerous city streets and a stalled subway car holding 18 people being held hostage by four highly efficient mercenaries. Wait, what was that? Yes, that’s the plot! Hijackers have taken over a subway car and want one million dollars delivered in one hour. If they don’t get what they want they will kill off one passenger every minute past the deadline. It is preposterous, a fact that is acknowledged by Lt. Garber (played with gruff shaggy dog command by Walter Matthau). “They’re gonna get away by asking every man, woman and child in New York City to close their eyes and count to a hundred.”
The movie’s title is derived from the train’s radio call sign. When a New York City Subway train leaves to start a run, it is given a call sign based upon the time it left and where; in this case, Pelham Bay Park station at 1:23pm. The film is based on a thriller novel of the same name by Morton Freedgood which became a bestseller and spawned three adaptations including a TV version in 1998 and a toothless remake starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta in 2009. A normal day on the subway is disrupted by the four men armed with submachine guns who detach the lead car and drive it into a tunnel with its passengers as hostages. The hijackers are led by “Mr. Blue” (played by a coldly menacing Robert Shaw), a former mercenary, and consist of disgruntled fired motorman “Mr. Green” who has a telltale cold (a memorable Martin Balsam), violent ex-Mafia “Mr. Grey” (a perfectly sleazy Hector Elizondo), and powerful, laconic brute “Mr. Brown.” It was screenwriter Peter Stone who gave the hijackers their color coded names. If this rings a bell to the cinephiles reading this, yes, this inspired Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.”
The film moves swiftly. The set-up is established in the opening minutes, and the conflict is on a roll, staying surprising and entertaining through to the closing scene. The success of the operation hinges on the hijackers being able to override the “dead man’s switch” so that the train will run without anyone operating it in the booth. After lots of negotiations, The Transit Authority gave permission to the filmmakers to film and use their subway system. They had to take out $20 million in insurances including a special “kook coverage” in case the film inspired a real life hijacking. Most interestingly, and worth noticing, is that the MTA insisted on the subways be shown without graffiti for they didn’t want it to be glorified (it wasn’t until 1989 that the last subway car without any graffiti ran in the city).
Efficient director Joseph Sargent adds a lot of humor and gives focus on all the quirky characters in the Big Apple showing us the fortitude of the city as well as its vulnerability. From the incompetent flu-ridden Mayor running for re-election to the diverse hostages inside the car. Instead of just being a clump, this group emerges as well-delineated and memorable individuals. Watch for the closing credits to see their names, “the maid,” “the homosexual,” “the pimp” and “the prostitute.”
Lt. Rico Patrone: “What’s up, Z?”
Lt. Garber: “You won’t believe it.”
Lt. Rico Patrone: “You know me, I’ll believe anything.”
Lt. Garber: “A train has been hijacked.”
Lt. Rico Patrone: “I don’t believe it.”
Available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Apple TV+, Vudu, Redbox, Amazon Prime and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Screenplay by Peter Stone
Based on the novel by John Godey
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, James Broderick and Dick O’Neill
About Author Morton Freedgood
Morton Freedgood (1913-2006) was born in Brooklyn, New York and began writing at a young age. In the 1940s, he had several articles and short stories published in Cosmopolitan, Collier’s, Esquire and other magazines while working full-time in the motion picture industry in New York City. He held public relations and publicity posts for United Artists, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and other companies for several years before focusing on his writing. His novel “The Wall-to-Wall Trap” was published under his own name in 1957. He then began using the pen name John Godey—borrowed from the name of a 19th-century women’s magazine—to differentiate his crime novels from his more serious writing. As Godey, he achieved commercial success with the books “A Thrill a Minute With Jack Albany,” “Never Put Off Till Tomorrow What You Can Kill Today” and “The Three Worlds of Johnny Handsome.” He saw his Jack Albany stories turned into the 1968 Walt Disney film “Never a Dull Moment,” starring Dick Van Dyke. “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” his novel about the hijacking of a New York City Subway train, was a best seller in 1973 and was made into the 1974 movie starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, a 1998 TV-movie remake of the same title, and a 2009 theatrical-feature remake, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.” His work was later referenced in the film “Reservoir Dogs” and Beastie Boys song “Sure Shot”. (macdowell.org)
About Screenwriter Peter Stone
Peter Stone was an acclaimed Tony- and Oscar-winning writer who began in TV and moved to motion pictures and the theater. The son of a schoolteacher turned motion picture producer, Stone was raised in L.A., and after heading east for schooling, began his career in live TV. He went on to script such well-received motion pictures as “Charade” (1963) and “Father Goose” (1964, for which he won an Academy Award) and has provided the book for several Broadway musicals, notably “1776” (1969) and “Woman of the Year” (1981). Stone’s theatrical work began in 1958 when his play, “Friend of the Family,” was produced in St. Louis. By 1961, he had written the book for the unsuccessful Broadway musical “Kean.” His second venture, “Skyscraper” (1965), also didn’t fare well at the box office. His first real success was “1776,” an unlikely but powerful musical about the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence. Winning the Tony as Best Musical, it had a healthy run on Broadway and was a modest success in London. Stone adapted Clifford Odets’ “The Flowering Peach,” about Noah and the ark, as a musical vehicle for Danny Kaye, with a score by Richard Rodgers. He later adapted the classic 1959 Billy Wilder film “Some Like it Hot” as “Sugar” (1972), which earned mixed reviews, and turned the 1942 Tracy-Hepburn comedy “Woman of the Year” into a 1981 star vehicle for Lauren Bacall. His polish of the book for “My One and Only” (1983) helped solidify Tommy Tune’s reputation, and Stone reportedly did uncredited work on Tune’s staging of “Grand Hotel” in 1990. He and Tune again collaborated on the award-winning “The Will Rogers Follies” in 1992, and Stone wrote the poorly reviewed “Titanic” in 1997. (pbs.org)
About Cinematographer Owen Roizman
A five-time Academy Award nominee — for “The French Connection” (1971), “The Exorcist” (1973), “Network” (1976), “Tootsie” (1982) and “Wyatt Earp” (1994) — Roizman was on the AMPAS Board of Governors from 2002-2011, representing the Cinematographers Branch. Among many other honors, Roizman was presented with the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and then the Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Roizman was also the president of the ASC from 1997-’98 and a longtime member of the ASC board. Known for his pioneering and influential use of soft light and stylized naturalism, Brooklyn native’s diverse credits also include “Play it Again Sam,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” “The Three Days of the Condor,” “The Return of A Man Called Horse,” “The Electric Horseman,” “Straight Time,” “The Black Marble,” “Absence of Malice,” “Taps,” “True Confessions,” “Havana,” “Grand Canyon” and “French Kiss.” Interestingly, Roizman did not aspire to be a cinematographer until later in life — far more focused on sports and then engineering studies in college. He got his start working during his summer breaks at a camera rental house in New York City, as his father, Sol, worked as a newsreel cameraman and then an operator on commercials.
After graduating college, Owen later joined his father working at MPO Videotronics — then the biggest commercial production house in the world — as an assistant to Gerald Hirschfeld, ASC. The three — cinematographer, operator and assistant — worked together until Sol’s death, after which future ASC great Gordon Willis briefly joined the team. Working his way up, Roizman began shooting for MPO, working with young directors who favored a single-source soft-light technique borrowed from the still-photography world that was revolutionary at the time in motion pictures. And the more he used it, the more he liked the effect — as did clients seeking a new, modern look. Roizman gradually moved away from the hard-light approach that he’d learned, favoring this more naturalistic style. While his first feature film was the unreleased drama “Stop!” in 1970, Roizman made his mark with his second: “The French Connection,” directed by William Friedkin. His camerawork in the Oscar-winning gritty crime drama would not only earn Roizman his first Academy Award nomination, but informally define his style for many years, making him known for his “gritty New York street photography” and using only “available light.” Noting his commercial background, Roizman appreciated the irony of the label, later noting, “I had totally changed everything I’d ever learned in order to shoot ‘The French Connection.’ People would later ask if in fact I really had shot everything with available light and I would say, ‘Yeah, everything that was available from the truck.'” Though Roizman delivered this look when it fit the picture, his creative signature was actually far more mercurial, as evidenced by his diverse credits. (theasc.com)
About Composer David Shire
American composer, pianist, and arranger David Shire (b. Buffalo, NY, 3 July 1937) has worked in theatre, film, recordings, and television since the early 1960s, earning multiple nominations for Tony® and Emmy Awards, and winning a Grammy® and an Academy Award®. He has frequently collaborated with lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., writing scores for the Broadway musicals “Baby” (1983, nominated for Tonys® for Best Score and Best Musical) and “Big” (1996, nominated for Best Score), and creating the off-Broadway hit revues “Starting Here,” “Starting Now” (capturing a 1977 Grammy® nomination) and “Closer Than Ever” (1989, winning the Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical and Best Score). David Lee Shire was the son of Buffalo society band leader and piano teacher Irving Daniel Shire. As an undergraduate at Yale University he met Maltby, his long-time theatre collaborator, and with him wrote two musicals, “Cyrano” and “Grand Tour,” which were produced by the Yale Dramatic Association. Shire, a double major in English and music, played also in a jazz group, earned a Phi Beta Kappa key, and graduated magna cum laude in 1959. After a semester of graduate school and six months in the National Guard, Shire moved to New York City to play the piano for dance classes, theatrical rehearsals, and pickup bands, and to continue his creative association with Maltby. Their show, “The Sap of Life,” was produced off-Broadway in 1961. As a rehearsal and pit pianist, Shire began to work with Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” (1964–67) and eventually became her regular accompanist and occasional arranger. She featured five of his songs on recordings and highlighted the Maltby/Shire “Starting Here, Starting Now” on her television special and associated recording “Color Me Barbra” (1966). Meanwhile Shire was writing incidental music for the stage (Peter Ustinov’s “The Unknown Soldier” and His Wife” at Lincoln Center 1967), as he has continued to do over the years: off-Broadway productions with his music have included “As You Like It” for the NY Shakespeare Festival in 1973, Smulnik’s “Waltz”in 1991, Donald Margulis’s “The Loman Family Picnic” in 1993, and Visiting Mr. Green in 1997. Shire had already written scores and theme music for television in the 1960s, and in 1970 decided to move to Hollywood.
Since then, his record in the film industry has been impressive, with music for at least 42 features from “The Conversation” in 1974 to “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” in 2009, including “Two People,” “All the President’s Men,” “The Hindenburg,” “Farewell My Lovely,” “The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three,” “2010,” “Return to Oz,” “Max Dugan Returns,” and “Zodiac.” For his original music for “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) he received a Grammy Award® (Album of the Year) and a Golden Globe nomination. Shire has also supplied nearly 90 scores for television series or movies made for TV (among them are “Alice,” “McCloud,” “Sarah Plain” and “Tall, Raid on Entebbe,” “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” “Serving in Silence,” Christopher Reeve’s “Rear Window,” Oprah Winfrey’s “The Women of Brewster Place,” and “The Heidi Chronicles”), and so far has had five nominations for Emmy Awards. The 1980 Academy Award® for Best Song went to David Shire and Norman Gimbel for “It Goes Like It Goes,” the theme song from “Norma Rae” (1979) with Sally Field. That same year Shire was also nominated for “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” from the film “The Promise.” Back in New York, in the fall of 1976 Richard Maltby got a call from the Manhattan Theatre Club with the proposal that he stage a revue of songs that David Shire and he had written. It was a welcome opportunity, for neither Maltby nor Shire was satisfied that their work had been adequately represented before the public. Shire was called back from Hollywood to arrange the songs, and “Theater Songs by Maltby and Shire” took its bow at the MTC in late 1976. It was such an unqualified success that it moved to the Barbarann Theater Restaurant in March 1977 under the title of “Starting Here, Starting Now” and ran for 120 performances. The original cast album was nominated for a Grammy Award®, and thirteen years later the show, and another cast album, were produced equally successfully in London. Almost all of Shire’s work in the musical theatre has been in collaboration with Maltby.
After they contributed some material to the revue Urban Blight in 1988, a second off-Broadway revue of exclusively Maltby/Shire songs, “Closer Than Ever,” was launched in 1989 and won the Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Musical. Their 1983 Broadway musical Baby earned Tony® nominations for Best Musical and Best Score, and “Big,” opening in 1996, was nominated both for a Tony® for Best Score and for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. All these shows have had hundreds of regional productions since. A new Maltby/Shire musical, “Take Flight,” with book by John Weidman, was first presented in concert versions in Russia and Australia…With librettist Gene Scheer, Shire recently completed a one-act opera for children about environmental stewardship, “A Stream of Voices,” commissioned by the Colorado Children’s Chorale and premiered during the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver in June 2008. He is currently working on a new musical with New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik. Among the many artists who have recorded David Shire’s songs are Maureen McGovern, Melissa Manchester, Jennifer Warnes, Julie Andrews, John Pizzarelli, Liz Callaway, Lynne Wintersteller, Nancy Lamont, Vanessa Williams, Glenn Campbell, Johnny Mathis, Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathy Lee Gifford, Robert Goulet, and Michael Crawford. The composer has also worked with lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman (the Oscar®-nominated “I’ll Never Say Goodbye”), Carol Connors (“With You I’m Born Again” recorded by Billy Preston and Syreeta), Sheldon Harnick (“Everlasting Light”), Ed Kleban, and David Pomeranz (“In Our Hands,” theme song for the United Nations World Summit for Children). Shire has conducted concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Rockland Symphony, the North Jersey Symphony and Yale’s Davenport Pops Orchestra; for his film scores he has conducted The London Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Irish Film Orchestra, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and the Munich Symphony Orchestra. (masterworksbroadway.com)
About Director Joseph Sargent
He directed 50 TV movies, including more Emmy-winning motion pictures for television or miniseries than any other director. The only time two TV movies tied for the same Emmy, both pictures were his. Working until he was 84, Sargent won four Emmys among nine nominations and three DGA Awards during his long career. He received Emmy nominations – and DGA Awards – for his last two HBO projects: “Something The Lord Made” and “Warm Springs.” Among his dozens of TV movies, minis and specials were “Amber Waves,” “Love Is Never Silent,” “Tomorrow’s Child,” “Choices Of The Heart,” “World War II: When Lions Roared,” “The Karen Carpenter Story,” “Miss Rose White,” “The Marcus Nelson Murders,” “Miss Evers’ Boys,” “Caroline?” and “A Lesson Before Dying.” Sargent also directed a handful of features — highlighted by the gripping 1974 thriller “The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three,” which starred Walter Matthau as an NYC dispatcher who faces off with the Robert Shaw-led hijackers of a subway train…“When it comes to directing Movies for Television, Joe’s dominance and craftsmanship was legendary — for the past 50 years,” said DGA president Paris Barclay. “With eight DGA Awards nominations in Movies for Television, more than any other director in this category, Joe embodied directorial excellence on the small screen. He was unafraid of taking risks, believing in his heart that television audiences demanded the highest quality stories. … His biographies demonstrated an exactitude for period accuracy while simultaneously infusing historical figures with true-to-life spirit and passion. Joe once said that he was ‘drawn to projects possessing edge’ — material that can make some comment or contribution to the condition of man,’ and it is this ‘edge’ that is his enduring directorial legacy.”
Along with the telepics, Sargent also directed episodes of such classic TV series as “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “Star Trek,” “The Fugitive,” “Lassie,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “The F.B.I.,” “Daniel Boone” and “Kojak” …“Television can bring a certain amount of enlightenment,” he said in that interview. “You’re not gonna change the world with that one film, but you can make a little bit of a dent. If we can make enough dents, it’s a hell of a medium because it reaches out to so many young minds as well as some entrenched minds. It can be quite gratifying when certain things take place.” (deadline.com) Sargent passed away in 2014.