Forgotton thrillers: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The Mechanic

Here we focus on two somewhat forgotten thrillers from the 1970s, both of which are better known by their more recent remakes: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and The Mechanic (1972).

To say the original is better than the remake is a cliché, but in this case it’s the truth. The original Taking of Pelham is an intelligent heist film about four men who take a New York City subway car hostage in exchange for $1 million. This film, like other ’70s films from NYC, is very much an example of regional-style filmmaking, often utilizing handheld cameras and achieving the feel of a general documentary, unlike today where the distinctions of style have been lost. Pelham celebrates the politically incorrect and funky cynical feeling of 1970s’ NYC as well. It’s done with such a light touch that you often find yourself smiling, even as you shake your head. The story never drags, but the film does not feel the need to move at a feverish pace out of the fear of boring someone, either. The approach is so old school it’s refreshing. This is an action film without action stars, which should entertain most everybody.

The Mechanic stars Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop, an elite hit man who ends up getting paid to kill his best friend. In an unusual reversal, he ends up befriending the son of his dead friend, who he then trains to be an assassin. Bronson almost always plays quiet goons, and that is true with this movie, as well. Though his character is portrayed as a sophisticate surrounded by interesting architecture and paintings, his soul is as barren as the Gobi desert. This does, however, provide occasional humor, such as when he pays prostitutes extra to write him love notes and cry and act like he’s the true love of their life. As with heist films, the moral code of Hollywood implicitly states that bad things must happen to bad men, even if we are basically rooting for them for the entirety of the movie. The Mechanic is understated in many ways, even with its surprise explosive ending.

Cine File is a random reference guide exploring the vast catalogue of films available on Netflix instant viewing, with special emphasis on the interesting, the unusual, and the ones that got left behind.

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