Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray Edition Updates While Retaining ’70s Grim Spirit



Pelham posterAmong the clutch of quintessential New York films that defined early ’70s cinema, showcasing not only the now-passé-to-say “grime” of the mean streets – the leftover atmospheric detritus of a decade of political and social decay in the world’s greatest town – but the attitude of a population who’d seen it all and could give an initial shrug and a quip even to becoming a hostage on a stolen subway car. The original theatrical poster art featured on the box for Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray edition puts you inside the eventual panic of the poor passengers of that hijacked subway train, but the film proper puts you squarely in the dual perspective of cold-as-shark’s-blood master thief, Robert Shaw, and slouchy-yet-diligent transit police lieutenant, Walter Matthau, in a battle of impatient wits, with a million dollars and the lives of 18 innocent people on the rail.

It’s a straight-up, expertly-structured heist film that often plays like a comedy. There’s necessary transit-specific exposition via a gaggle of shuffling Japanese dignitaries from the Tokyo transit system; nobody on board at first gets overly riled at the situation, even laughing at the gunmen, celebrating a certain strain of New York charm, matching the brazen “keep dreamin’, maniac” attitude of the always-surly transit dispatch; and, adding political satire into the mix, the very unpopular mayor plays his scenes bed-ridden with a cold, removed from the action, and any hint of responsibility for the crisis, hiding under a blanket. Editor Jerry Greenberg holds it all in balance, cutting in a style that, to my eye, is more modern than the era, pulling us out of shots and scenes quickly enough to make a quip or plot point pop. In any case, he keeps up with David Shire’s “chaotic but controlled” score, an iteration of that popular jazzy approach embraced by so many ’70s thrillers, yet eschewing what Shire describes as the ubiquitous spreading of “bad Lalo Schifrin” across the era. Both Greenberg and Shire are interviewed in separate extras, which also includes an interview with “Mr. Grey” Héctor Elizondo, and a fun and trivia-deep commentary track by brothers Pat Healy (actor/director/writer) and Jim Healy (film festival programmer).

Pelham Matthau at boardThere’s a hitch in my walk up to the Blu-ray player when it comes to movies made in this sliver of film history. The gnarly grain of movies like Pelham, The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, are as much a part of the experience as the newly visceral depths of actors like Hackman, Pacino, and De Niro, the gummed up picture even deepening that sense of detached desperation. For my money, the last thing you want is a Blu-ray nicing up the beautiful long-lens, flat-shot grunginess of a ’70s New York alleyway. So, while this Blu-ray presents the clean and crisp image one would expect from Kino Lorber, there’s thankfully no way to fully wipe away director Joseph Sargent’s carefully captured ambiance of decay.

The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.