AFI Movie Club: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974) – American Film Institute

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AFI Movie Club: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974)

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, directed by Joseph Sargent and starring Walter Matthau as police lieutenant Zachary Garber, is a nail-biting thriller that also captures the sights, sounds and character of New York City in the 1970s. Sargent served as the senior filmmaker in residence for the Directing discipline at the AFI Conservatory, educating the next generation of storytellers. 

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THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE – Reelgood

Watch Cynthia Nixon announce today’s film!

Movie Trivia About THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

DID YOU KNOW? THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is based on a 1973 novel of the same name, written by Morton Freedgood under the pen name of John Godey. 

DID YOU KNOW? In a 1974 interview with The Los Angeles Times about the film, director Joseph Sargent said that the New York Transit Authority was concerned that the film might inspire copycat crimes – not by professional criminals, who would certainly have seen through the film’s flights of cinematic fancy, but from “kooks.” 

DID YOU KNOW? According to director Joseph Sargent, one of the stipulations made by the New York Transit Authority was that the subway cars not have any visible graffiti – trying to avoid glorifying graffiti. Sargent tried to argue for a more realistic visual aesthetic, but ultimately succumbed. He said at the time, “New Yorkers are going to hoot when they see our spotless subway cars.”  

DID YOU KNOW? THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE was the first feature film to utilize a “flash” process developed by Movielab that would allow for an increase in detail when shooting with available lighting. 

DID YOU KNOW? One of the hijackers in the film – Mr. Brown – was played by Earl Hindman, obliquely recognizable to television audiences a generation later as Tim Allen’s always obscured neighbor Wilson on HOME IMPROVEMENT. 

DID YOU KNOW? THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE has been adapted twice since director Joseph Sargent’s gritty 1974 New York masterpiece – first as a 1998 TV movie starring Edward James Olmos and as a feature in 2009 directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta. 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-How does New York itself play a role in the film? Could THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE have been set in any city with a subway system, or is the specificity of the location important to the plot? Why or why not? 

-How would you characterize the genre of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE? How does the movie balance its tonal shifts? 

-How is New York of the 1970s different than the New York of today? How is it the same? What details of the era did you notice? How do films serve as time capsules for bygone times? 

-How does the subway as a setting lend itself to the heightened tension of a hijacking situation? 

-How would you rate THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE? 

Watch THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE cinematographer Owen Roizman talk about lighting on set in this exclusive video from the AFI Archive:

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