The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – A Movie Review

This is a caper movie.  Four men armed with machine guns hijack a New York City subway train and hold the passengers for a million-dollar ransom.  Walter Matthau plays Lt. Garber of the NYC Transit Authority Police who negotiates with the kidnappers.  Robert Shaw is “Mr. Blue,” the criminal mastermind of the gang.  With supporting cast members Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone, a cop working for Garber, Martin Balsam as “Mr. Green,” the man in the gang who knows how to run a subway train and Lee Wallace as the despised and cowardly Mayor of New York the movie is a taut drama with humor and suspense mixing perfectly to suspend disbelief.  And with gobs of local color from a supporting cast that acts and talks remarkably like actual New Yorkers of the period (as I can personally attest) the movie bumps along from the initial capture of the train to the first dead body to the mad dash to get the ransom money to the stone-cold killers who enforce a deadline with the lives of the hostages at gunpoint.

Matthau and Stiller provide the comic relief and Shaw provides the menace with bloodless calm.  The hostages are a tapestry of the ethnicities and callings of that time and the other parts, cops, the mayor’s cronies and the transit workers all add texture to the story.  And the swearing!  Except for Robert Shaw almost every character including the women curse a blue streak.  Some of it is actually quite amusing but it should be mentioned in case there are any folks who would take offense.  And the most important character of the whole drama is the New York City subway system of that era.  The movie was made in and on the subway trains and tunnels and it is unmistakably authentic.  It brings back the thousands of hours of my life I spent travelling around Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx on subway cars.

Here we are almost fifty years since this movie was made and it stands up very well although only the old remember the New York City being represented.  I must confess it did my heart good to see the people of that era being represented.  The city back then probably had a higher crime rate than even now in these post George Floyd riots times.  And racial tensions were high and neighborhoods treated outsiders with suspicion.  But at least back then people still considered the police as part of the solution.  Nowadays the police are so disrespected that they probably wouldn’t even bother to save the hostages’ lives.  They’d wait until the hostages were shot and then write up the reports and look for some surveillance footage for the six o’clock news report.

I highly recommend this movie with just a warning about the swearing for the genteel.

A Man for All Seasons (1966) – A Movie Review

This movie is the adaption of Robert Bolt’s play of the same name.  It is the story of Sir Thomas More.  He was a politician and a scholar who lived during the reign of King Henry the Eighth of England.  But most of all he was a principled and deeply religious man.  Being a personal friend of the King, he rose to the rank of Lord Chancellor but when Henry desired to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn it put him on a collision course with the Pope.  And when Henry declared himself the Head of the Christian church in England, Thomas More had to resign from his office.  But the powerful and unscrupulous Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, conspires to use More’s piety as a means of destroying him and ultimately have him executed.

And that is the plot of the movie.  Thomas More uses his considerable intelligence to walk the tight rope between maintaining his loyalty to the King and honoring his religious convictions.  But slowly and inexorably Cromwell cuts through that rope.

The movie is excellent.  The dialog is wonderful and intelligent.  The cast is great.  Cameos by Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey and Robert Shaw as Henry the Eighth are memorable but the main actors are Paul Scofield as Thomas More, Wendy Hiller as his wife Alice, Susannah York as his daughter Margaret and Leo McKern as the villainous Thomas Cromwell.  And there are other strong performances.  John Hurt plays the traitorous Richard Rich and Nigel Davenport is the colorful Duke of Norfolk.

The movie won the academy awards among others for Best Movie, Best Director and Best Actor for Paul Scofield.  And I think it deserved all of that.  I will caution the reader that I do enjoy theater and this is undoubtedly a play adapted for cinema.  It’s all about the dialog and the relationships of the principal character to the others.  And it is a tour de force for Scofield.  If you dislike plays this may not be for you.  But for me this is great storytelling.  The humanity and the intelligence of Thomas More are on full display.  I literally can’t say enough good things about this movie.

Highly recommended.

Robin and Marian – A Movie Review

I struggled with whether I should classify this as a classic movie.  I decided to be technical.  Since I saw this movie at its premiere in 1976 and since I was born in the late 1950s I assume that categorizes it as post-classical, more or less.  The story takes up twenty years after Robin and Little John have followed King Richard the Lion Hearted to the Crusades.  Disillusioned and tired of war he returns to take up his life in England.

When I saw this movie the first time I was shocked to see that James Bond was old, balding and apparently way out of shape.  I liked the movie but it didn’t make a huge impression at the time.  I re-watched it last week.  This time it clicked.  Sean Connery as the aging hero is very believable.  The action contrasts intentionally against the swashbuckling portrayal of Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”  In the 1938 edition when Flynn is attempting to flee the Sheriff’s castle he cuts the rope holding up the portcullis to the castle gate which allows the weight of the gate to propel him effortlessly to the top of the wall from which he then laughingly escapes the Sheriff’s men.  In the Connery version when the gate is closed on Robin, he and Little John begin to slowly and painfully climb the wall.  These are two middle aged men struggling to do what they used to do effortlessly.  By the time they reach the top of the wall soldiers are upon them and the escape is anything but light-hearted.  The comical and yet stirring scene sets the stage for the action in the rest of the movie.  We see Robin and his re-assembled band of arthritic merry men painfully re-acquaint themselves with guerilla warfare against the Sheriff of Nottingham.  And we find Maid Marian is now Mother Superior of the local convent.  She is about to be sent to prison by the Sheriff for some policy against the church by King John.  Robin rescues her, against her will, and carries her off to Sherwood Forest to try and rekindle their interrupted life together.  Audrey Hepburn an actress that I’ve only liked rarely in film is almost as well cast as Connery.  She brings humor and feminine grace to the part and is totally believable in the role.  The screen romance is extremely well done and balances out the adventure sequences in a remarkable way.

And finally, the counterbalance to the merry band is the Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Robert Shaw.  And he is allowed to be a chivalrous foe who seems to be as fond of Robin as he is disdainful of his own oaf-like associates.  Of course, he knows that this collision with Robin will end in their long-delayed duel.  And that duel is the climax of the adventure story.  But the finale is the resolution of Robin and Marian’s star-crossed fate.  Always separated by war and duty that robbed them of their youth and the happiness they hoped for, they see before them more conflict and the certainty that age and weakness will eventually win out over them.

This is an older man’s Robin Hood.  You have to be at the point where running up a few flights of steps has you panting a little to really appreciate this movie.  It is heroic to “rage against the dying of the light.”  And it is especially admirable to do it with a little self-deprecating humor.  For any of you folks out there with more than a few gray hairs, this movie comes highly recommended.  And if you have a long-time sweet heart it’s a good date movie.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews – The Sting

Can a movie made in 1973 be a classic?  Hell yeah!  The Sting, to my mind, is one of the last identifiable big studio system type movies.  Everything about it exudes quality.  The cinematography, music, actors, sets, sound and script show attention to detail and professionalism.  The only thing that sets it apart from earlier productions is a little profanity that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hayes Code censors of twenty years earlier.

The plot is grifters versus mobsters in 1930s Chicago.  Revenge for a murdered grifter has the two stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford partnering to orchestrate a “big con” against a vicious mobster played by Robert Shaw.  Supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and a host of familiar faces.  George Roy Hill directed it and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin suffuses it from beginning to end and reinforces the feeling that you are immersed in an earlier era.  I cannot think of a false note in the whole movie.  Newman is at his best.  Redford is very good and Shaw chews up the scenery with his best Irish gangster characterization.  His mannerisms are fantastic.  One of his best bits has one of his henchmen asking if it’s worthwhile hunting down the grifters who stole such a small amount of his money.  Shaw’s on a golf course and he points to another golfer and says to the hitman, “Ya see that fella?  He and I went to fifth grade together.  If he finds out that a two-bit grifter got away with stealing from me I’m gonna have to have you kill him and every other small timer from here to Atlantic City.  Yafalla (which means do you follow)?

The plot is intricate involving Newman’s crew of con-men, Shaw’s gang, hired hitmen from out of town, local police and even FBI agents after Newman.  There are twists, turns and surprises.  The movie combines comedy, action and some drama in a fast-paced and highly entertaining way.  It’s an homage to the gangster movies of the 1930s that feels like it could have been written by O’Henry or Ring Lardner.  But there’s a modern feel to the pessimistic tone of the ending.  When Newman asks Redford what he’ll do with his cut, he says he doesn’t want it.  “I’d only lose it anyway.”

Give it a try if you’ve never seen it.  Highly recommended.