The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

With the John Travolta-Denzel Washington remake arriving in theaters June 12, the giddily thrilling 1974 original recalls a very different New York. After a subway car is highjacked, Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau, too sexy in broad yellow tie and loud plaid shirt) becomes the unflappable man at the mic, negotiating via squawk box with alpha 'jacker Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw). Blue and his color guard, Grey, Green, and Brown (Quentin Tarantino copied the gimmick for Reservoir Dogs) issue a simple demand: $1 million cash in one hour; for every minute late, one of the 18 abducted passengers dies. Joseph Sargent directs the adaptation of John Godey's novel. (Peter Stone's script leaves paper cuts at every turn, and here it delivers a terse gotcha to that battered comedy crutch, Foreigners Are Funny.) The film's operative mode is harassed camaraderie, from the wiseacre friction in the subway system's "noive center" to the spontaneous chorus of "boo"s sent up when a crowd of rubberneckers catches sight of the mayor. Sargent's whole enterprise doubles as a '70s archaeological dig, its eureka moment arriving when the cop car with ransom in tow crashes in a grimy, pre-Starbucks Astor Place. (R) JESSICA WINTER

May 29-June 4, 7 & 9:15 p.m., 2009

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