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the taking of pelham one two three (joseph sargent, 1974)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a New York Movie. There have always been New York Movies ... it's an official genre in a way that, say, Houston Movies are not. The early 1970s were a good time for New York Movies. The French Connection (1971), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Taxi Driver (1976), and my favorite, Mean Streets (1973). Those were not the best times for NYC, and its image suffered. People like me, who didn't even visit New York City until 1982, when I was 29 years old, thought we knew what the place was like from those movies (I spent a lot of that visit looking for places that felt like Mean Streets). The first season of the current TV series The Deuce takes place in 1971 New York, and it's a sleazy place.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three fits in with these other movies, although it isn't as good. It's a solid genre piece, and it feels to this outsider like it presents an accurate picture of the city. It's fairly tense, and the actors shine, although I don't know that anyone gave a career performance. David Shire's score is highly regarded, and I found it effective, although it felt at times like I was hearing the score to a 1970s TV cop series. While I never felt like there was much subtext the way you get in Scorsese's New York films of the time, there's nothing wrong with a movie that sets out to provide 104 minutes of entertainment and succeeds.

I get monthly recommendations from Bright Wall/Dark Room, and there have been some good ones in there. Pelham is another good one, yet I admit I'm a bit surprised they offered it. Another 1974 film, The Conversation, is more what I expect: arty film from a top director (Pelham is directed by Joseph Sargent, a journeyman better known for his work in television). But that's the nice thing about good recommendations ... they are unexpected.

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