Four seemingly-unrelated men board subway train Pelham 1:23 at successive stations. Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey and Mr. Brown are heavily armed and overpower the motorman and novice conductor to take control of the train. Between stations they separate the front car from the remainder of the train, setting passengers in the back cars and the motorman free. The four demand $1 million ransom within exactly one hour for the remaining eighteen hostages, including the conductor. If their demands are not met in time or their directions are not followed precisely, they will begin to shoot hostages dead, one every minute the money is late. Wisecracking Lt. Zach Garber of the transit police ends up being the primary communicator between the hijackers and the authorities, which includes transit operations, his own police force, the NYPD, and the unpopular and currently flu ridden mayor who will make the ultimate decision of whether to pay the ransom. Unknown to Garber, what may be working on …
User Reviews: There are many disappointing action pictures out there – this is not one of them. The genius of the film is there is no wasted motion. The picture starts right with the plot – no introduction or character development. The characters are allowed to develop as the plot moves along.
Which brings us to pacing – the pacing in this picture is excellent. It moves right along and never stops, never slows, never goes too fast. This is the strongest element of its success.
Another strength is its economy of motion. Many action pictures bore us with unneeded car chase scenes, shoot-em-ups, explosions and other mayhems that are used as filler when true creativity comes up short. This film needs none of that. Only that which is necessary is shown. Only that which needs speaking is spoken. This film is deftly written and crafted with great economy and this underpins the excellent pacing. It moves right along because there is no wasted motion as there is in most other action pictures.
This does not mean there is no action, there is fabulous action, but only such action as is necessary to move the plot along. There is no action simply to occupy time until the requisite 90 minutes are up.
The directing is equally economical. No fancy shots, shaky cameras, or special effects – just good, straight forward directing.
I doubt this picture could be made today for the above reasons. The script readers would reject it for ‘lack of development’; ‘not enough action’; ‘no romantic interest’; and all the other brainless formulas script readers dole out. The producers would demand ‘more action’ and ‘camera work’ from the directors. And, of course, a romantic interest (in some state of undress) would have to be shoe horned in.
Film students should study this picture. From it they will learn that brevity is a virtue and mindless formulas are just that – mindless.