Original New York Terror Movie

DATELINE:  Classic Thriller



Taking of Pelham One Two Three, from 1974, is a masterpiece

Directed by Joseph Sargent, it holds up after 40 years of action thrillers have passed into oblivion. Twenty-five years before 9-11, it showed New York City in full terrorist mode. Of course, back then, it was not called “terrorism,” but when a gang of dangerous criminals hijacks a subway train, the word fits.

Acutely written and underplayed by a bunch of New York actors, the leading transit policeman is Walter Matthau, a man give over to snippy one-liners and packaging disheveled frumpiness. He is at the top of the game here. And, his sidekick is Jerry Stiller, not Jack Lemmon.

Indeed, the passel of familiar faces from TV and movies of the era is a who’s who cast: James Broderick, Tony Roberts, Dick O’Neill, Kenneth McMillan, Dolph Sweet, Tom Pedi, and Doris Roberts. For the most part they throw out some zinger lines to break up the tension.

The bad guys are gems: Hector Elizondo and Martin Balsam, of course, effective as always, but Robert Shaw added another villain portrait to his growing gallery as the mercenary ringleader. His end rivals his work in Jaws the following year.

New York City is magnificent as itself, harsh, bustling, dirty, cynical, and unique.

To watch a well-put together suspense thriller, you may be surprised to learn it won next to nothing in awards, a few nominations, but nothing from Oscar land. They didn’t take terror films lightly back then, and this one dishes out some great entertainment along with the speeding subway trains and crashing police cars.

Cold Hands, Green Heart: A New Leaf Revisited


 new leaf

Elaine May directed a handful of movies, and all of them went out of budgetary control. Her first, most successful film, taken out of her editing hands, was shortened by half its length. Some called it studio butchery.

Yet, forty years later, A New Leaf on a no-frills DVD is brilliant, frothy, irreverent, and a delightful adaptation of Jack Ritchie’s macabre short story called “The Green Heart.” Ritchie usually wrote for Alfred Hitchcock’s magazine and had a few stories developed into series episodes.

So, Miss May intended a dark comedy indeed. It did not end up that way (thank heavens). Walter Matthau played a foppish elitist who loses his wealth and must resort to the unthinkable: marriage to a rich woman whom he would murder to gain her fortune and live his profligate lifestyle unimpeded.

May wrote, directed, and took the lead role as the helpless nebbish, Henrietta Lowell, rich and klutzy. An academic nerd with a good heart, she is gauche and louche. She played perfectly off Matthau, the only actor who could carry off Henry Graham with equal parts pathos and slime.

The first half of the movie simply carries the viewer along for a hilarious satire on a rich playboy facing penury. All this is assisted with a supporting cast of familiar faces and highly talented character actors, including George Rose, Doris Roberts, Jack Weston, Conrad Bain, and James Coco.

May’s victim looks like a goner every step of the way, though the tables could be turned on those river rapids.

The film deserves rediscovery and deeper appreciation, even if it disappointed Elaine May. It will not disappoint the audience, and that will make this charmer a catharsis even Hitchcock must have enjoyed.