Movies Till Dawn: Hot and Cool ’70s Crime Double Feature

Midnight – “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” – Thriller

738329203078(1974, Kino Lorber) Gritty and witty hostage thriller with Walter Matthau in full hangdog mode as a New York City Transit Authority cop who becomes the primary contact – and eventual foil – for a quartet of armed men who takes passengers on a Downtown-bound 6 train hostage. The coldly methodical leader (Robert Shaw) of the group ups the stakes with impossible demands – $1 million in cash, delivered in one hour, or one passenger dies with each passing minute. Though it lacks the high-intensity action setpieces of ‘70s crime movie peers like “The French Connection,” this adaptation of John Godey/Morton Freedgood’s novel is worth mention in their company, thanks to a character-driven, richly worded script by Peter Stone (an Oscar winner for “Charade”) that smoothes over the technical impossibilities of the plan, and energetic direction by Emmy winner Joseph Sargeant that balances humor, satire (pokes at the glad-handing and bureaucracy inherent to New York politics of the period) and tension in equal measure. The excellent cast of character players is a major asset, wit Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman filling out Shaw’s crew and Jerry Stiller, Dick O’Neill, James (father of Matthew) Broderick, Julius Harris and Kenneth McMillan backing Matthau; Lee Wallace (foreshadowing Ed Koch) and Tony Roberts are the vote-counting mayor and aide, respectively (with Doris Roberts kvetching up a storm as the mayor’s wife). Kino’s 42nd Anniversary Edition offers a wealth of extras, including informative commentary by filmmaker/actor Pat Healy and his brother, history Jim Healy, as well as lively interviews with Elizondo, editor Jerry Greenberg and composer David Shire, whose propulsive jazz-fusion score has become a favorite among cratediggers and soundtrack obsessives.

1:30  a.m.– “92 in the Shade” – Drama

Amaray Wrap.EPS(1975, Scorpion Releasing) Aimless rich kid Peter Fonda returns to his family’s home in Florida with a vague notion of making a living as a fishing boat captain. This plan doesn’t sit well with grizzled locals Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton, who regard Fonda as a threat to their own dwindling boat businesses; a rash but largely harmless act quickly escalates into threats of physical violence between the three men, all of whom are in agreement that the fight isn’t worth the effort, but can’t quite figure out how to dial it back and save face. Author Thomas McGuane directed this amiable, unfocused adaptation of his own novel about the eccentric flora and fauna of the Florida Keys, which is short on structure and dramatic drive (or coherence) but benefits hugely from his pungent dialogue (“If turkey was going for ten cents a pound, I couldn’t buy a raffle ticket on a jaybird’s ass”) and a terrific cast to deliver it. In addition to Fonda and the one-two character actor punch of Oates and Stanton, there’s Margot Kidder and Elizabeth Ashley (McGuane was married to the former and indulged in an affair with the latter during production), Burgess Meredith and William Hickey as Fonda’s grandfather and addled father, respectively, and veteran scene stealers Sylvia Miles, Louise Latham, Joe Spinell and John Quade in the supporting cast. Scorpion Releasing’s DVD includes the downbeat alternate ending included on previous VHS releases, as well as a wealth of trailers for other obscurities from their slate of upcoming releases, including the Willie Nelson Western “Barbarosa,” “Killer Force” and “Firepower” – both featuring O.J. Simpson – and John Dahl’s great neo-noir “The Last Seduction.” 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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