Archive for Subway Movies


It’s been a while since a classic movie about, or even with scenes in, the New York City subway hit theaters. The 2009 version of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is something everyone would rather ignore, and 1995’s Money Train drew headlines more for alleged copycats than for the quality of the film. Still, the classics remain the classics with the 1970s a particularly iconic decade for subway movies, and in a few weeks, you’ll be able to catch the big names on the silver screen.

As part of an early fall retrospective, BAMcinématek will be hosting Retro Metro, what they’re calling a 16-film ride through the history of the New York City subway. The Big 3 — The French Connection, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and opening night’s The Warriors — get top billing, and joining them will be a rare showing of The Incident as well as a dozen other films inspired by or filmed on the subways. There will be no Ghost, but you can catch Saturday Night Fever, Midnight Cowboy, and Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. along with Vincente Minnelli’s The Clock and the Gene Kelly classic On The Town.

The films run from Friday, September 26 through Sunday, October 5, and the full schedule is available in BAM’s press release. I’m aiming to catch The Incident on October 3, The Warriors on September 26, and perhaps The French Connection on October 5. If there’s interest, I may arrange a quasi-official Second Ave. Sagas outing to see the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three at 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 28. If you haven’t seen any of these movies, or even if you have, check them out. This will be a great festival.

Meanwhile, we have more pressing matters to attend to. I’m out of town for the Labor Day weekend, but the work doesn’t stop. Your service advisories after the jump, and remember to pay attention to travel patterns on Sunday as the West Indian-American Day Parade always causes some localized changes. Read More→

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As I’m out of New York for a few days this week, I’m not going to be around to cover all of the breaking subway news. I did, however, want to make sure that some fresh content finds its way to the site, and I’ll be running a few of my archived pieces. We’ll start off with a gem from December 27, 2007, three years ago today. December is, after all, always a great time for movies.

Over the long holiday weekend, I took a trip to the movies to catch I Am Legend, the latest in New York City destruction. While Will Smith, the only surviving human on the island of Manhattan, shuns what I imagine to be a deserted subway in exchange for his product-placed Ford cars, I couldn’t help but imagine the subway in an empty Manhattan. Devoid of people, there would be seats for anyone left alive. Who would drive the trains remain to be seen, and it would probably make sense to seal the subway tunnels to avoid a zombie apocalypse.

But I digress. Hollywood has always loved the New York City subways. Film makers have preyed on tales of crime-filled subway rides, glorified life in the tunnels and found new and creative ways to hijack trains. What follows are a few of my favorite subway movies.

Any discussion about the subway movies must begin with the Joseph Sargent classic The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Preying on the fears of New Yorkers during the city’s economic and social problems in the 1970s, the movie, based on a bestselling book, features a hijacking of a subway. Led by Robert Shaw, a group of men who clearly influenced Quentin Taratnino’s Reservoir Dogs take a subway car hostage and threaten death if they don’t get one million dollars. It’s up to an excellent Walter Malthau to rescue the hostages and catch the criminals.

The movie, notable for its wit and irreverent take on New York City circa 1975, the movie was filmed on location in the subway system and garnered a mention in a Beastie Boys song. The MTA allowed Sargent to film in the then-abandoned Court Street station and tunnels between what is now the Transit Museum and the Hoyt/Schermerhorn stop. The movie was remade poorly in 1998 and again in 1999. See the Mathau/Robert Shaw version and skip the over-the-top Denzel Washington/John Travolta version. The new one has twice the action and none of the fun of the original.

On the other side of subway crime thrillers is Money Train, a 1995 movie with Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson and Jennifer Lopez. Harrelson, a disgruntled former employee of the the Transit Authority, conspires to rob the money train. While filming took place in Los Angeles, filmmakers modified an old R22 car that was eventually donated to New York City Transit. The film was criticized after its release when teenagers perpetrated copy-cat crimes in firebombing token booths. Authorities, however, did not believe that the crimes were related to the movie. The money trains have since been retired.

Moving back in time, we come across The Incident, Martin Sheen’s movie debut. For this one, the New York Transit Authority denied permission outright to film in the subways, and it’s easy to see why. Two kids board a train late at night and begin to psychologically terrorize the passengers. Filmed in black and white, it’s a snapshot into another era when the subways were considered dangerous, and this movie, more than any others, has set the tone for the Hollywood portrayal of the New York City subways as a dark, lonely and dangerous place.

Finally, we come to The French Connection. This William Friedkin classic stars a young Gene Hackman trying to break up a France-based narcotics ring as they smuggle drugs into New York. Hackman must drive through and around traffic underneath the elevated train line as he chases his French suspect who has hijacked a train in Brooklyn. You can watch the famous train chase scene right here on YouTube, but it’s worth it to watch the entire flick.

Of course, there are always other seminal moments of film history in the subways. Patrick Swayze meets a subway ghost in Ghost, and On The Town features Miss Turnstile, a relic lost to history. But these four featured here are great starting points, and three of them — all but The Incident — are out on DVD. While you may not have to take the train to work this week, catch a train in the movies instead.

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As part of its series showcasing heist movies, Film Forum is taking everyone’s favorite subway caper out of storage. The arthouse will screen the 1974 original version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three for two days starting tomorrow. The movie will go on at 1:30, 5:35 and 9:45 on Friday and Saturday and will be shown in rotation with Charley Varrick, another Walter Mathau heist film. The details are available here.

The original Pelham One Two Three, directed by Joseph Sargent and starring Mathau and Robert Shaw, remains a quintessential 1970s New York movie. The film captures the essence of living in the city during its decline and does a wonderful job skewering cops, the mayor and the MTA as well. If you’ve never seen it, check it out this weekend, and even if you have seen it, isn’t it time to watch it again?

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Previewing Pelham 1 2 3

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This Friday, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 will open at theaters around New York. The action remake of the 1974 cult classic tale of a subway hijacking features John Travolta and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, and press coverage is starting to take off. We’ve looked at the film making process before, and today, we have more. The Daily News goes behind the scenes of a movie shot throughout the subway system. Using real New Yorkers in real subway cars in real stations, director Tony Scott is aiming to bring authenticity to the movie.

Meanwhile, movie blogger Jordan Hoffman was part of a movie tie-in tour of an abandoned subway station. Hoffman and company were led on an underground tour of closed sections of the Brooklyn Bridge stop on the 4/5/6. Check out the pictures at UGO Movie Blog. I’m jealous.

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pelham123 In 1974, Joseph Sargent made a movie out of a John Godey book about a trainjacking in New York City. The movie — The Taking of Pelham One Two Three — is so quintessentially an element of 1970s New York City that a remake, while inevitable, is simply unnecessary.

In just over five weeks, though, Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 — now with numbers instead of words — will hit theaters, and buzz over the film is building. Instead of the witty banter between Walter Malthau and Robert Shaw, viewers will get the intensity of Denzel Washington and the mania of John Travolta. I fear for the charm of this movie.

This weekend, two major papers on both sides of the country chatted with Scott about the movie. We start in Los Angeles with the L.A. Times’ profile of a reinvented movie. As part of the paper’s summer movie preview, Chris Lee chatted with the director about his concept of a story from another era. The new film, seemingly a product of the technology-driven post-9/11 world in which we live, will feature some live-blogging, some webcams and some online work in the hunt for the criminals behind the train takeover. It is, says Scott, a very different movie from its predecessor.

“Even though it’s the same basic story, the films have very different sensibilities,” the director noted. “Brian Helgeland, the writer, came to me two years ago and said he was going to reinvent it, put a spin on it. He always comes up with something that inspires me.”

Meanwhile, in our own Times’ summer movie preview, one-time Subwayland columnist Randy Kennedy delved into the retelling of Pelham 1 2 3. Kennedy looks at how Tony Scott earned the cooperation of New York City Transit and was allowed to film most of the movie in the system. He used the outer abandoned platforms at Hoyt-Schermerhorn for some scenes and the 7 platform at Grand Central for others.

“We thought, ‘This is our movie — it’s about New York City Transit — and we really wanted it look great,’” Alberteen Anderson, director of film and special events for the MTA, said to The Times.

It wasn’t all fun and games though for Scott and the MTA. While film crews had to combat a live third rail and soot-filled tunnels, the rest of New York wasn’t so keen on adjusting their schedules for the filming. “The general public late at night is not all that cooperative,” Scott said. “Not that I blame them. It’s late. They just want to get home.”

The MTA was less diplomatic. “We will never shoot at that station again,” Anderson said of Grand Central Terminal.

In the end, Kenendy profiles a director who, despite having never really ridden the subway prior to preparing for this film, remains committed to deliver a product that even the most astute of railfans can appreciate. The film may not have the novelty and allure of the original. It won’t feel, as the old one does, like a movie from a time during which story and character counted more than explosions and action. But it will star our subway system, and come June 12, I’ll go see it.

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The preview of Pelham 1-2-3

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I’ve been waiting for this one for a while…

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On and off over the last few months, I’ve posted about the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. Today, we have some pictures. An intrepid Subchatter with insider access to some of the subway cars used as set pieces posted a whole bunch of neat photos. The photos include an old R62 car dressed up to look like a new R142.

In other nifty subway photography, long-time reader and frequent commenter Marc Shepherd recently spotted something odd: subways on flat-bed trucks crossing the George Washington Bridge. According to Shepherd’s first-hand account, police cleared the bridge so that the subway cars could cross unimpeded. Where these R160s were bound is anyone’s guess.

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While we last saw Denzel Washington running around above ground during the filming of the remaking of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, amNew York’s Urbanite blog found the film crews prepping an underground station for some subway scenes. Check out these pictures of the crews setting up on the 7 platform at Grand Central. Perhaps the hijackers are taking the train west to the Hudson Yards stop that doesn’t yet exist at 34th St. and 11th Ave. [Urbanite]

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Live from the subways, it’s The Remaking of Pelham 1-2-3. New York’s seminal subway movie from the 1970s, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 stands a classic view of both the subways and the city frozen in a moment of time. Today, Tony Scott is remaking the film with Denzel Washington, John Travolta and James Gandolfini. I’m not so optimistic that this remake will have the charmed and humor of the original, but, hey, we’ve got pictures of the site.

As you can see, Denzel Washington, an MTA employee with a gun up there, doesn’t look too amused, and I’m just terrified of the idea of a friendly MTA station agent packing heat. Whudat and WireImage have some more pictures for your viewing pleasure.

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This is not the world’s most efficient subway system.

In a few short weeks, on April 29, one of the year’s most anticipated video games hits the shelves. That game, as many New Yorkers know, is the latest installment in one of the most polarizing and controversial video games of all time: Grand Theft Auto.

While a discussion of a video game may seem out of place on Second Ave. Sagas, this time around, Grand Theft Auto has a New York tie-in. GTA IV takes place in Liberty City, a fictionalized and stylized version of New York City and the surrounding environs. When Rockstar Games revealed this location last year, New York politicians were expectedly up in arms about it. No politician likes the glorified violence these GTA games bring to video consoles across the country.

For the subway buffs among us, seeing one of the most graphically-advanced and obsessively-detailed video games set in New York was something of a pop culture dream come true. Sure, GTA: San Andreas featured the Los Angeles subway, but who rides that? With Liberty City, GTA has a chance to show us what the video game’s graphics rendering capabilities really are. Could it handle a 722-mile, 468-station subway system with 22 lines and various underground, at-grade and aboveground subway tracks?

gta4map3.jpgWell, based on leaked maps obtained by the video game blog Kotaku from a Webshots user, the answer seems to be a disappointing no. Liberty City’s Transport Authority’s subway system pales in comparison to one run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority we currently enjoy. The maps — one is above and one is at right (click it to enlarge it) — show a small subway system with few lines and few stops that bear little relation to New York’s iconic subway map.

When the game hits, I bet Liberty City’s subways will look awfully similar to New York City’s subways but for another era. If the idea is that Liberty City is a crime-filled town where everyone’s jockeying for now power, they’re not going to be doing that while riding antiseptic R160s around town. Instead, we’ll be catapulted back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when the dirty, dingy subway were crime-filled and covered in graffiti.

With these maps a disappointing sneak peak at the game, it’s been a rough week for the New York City subways in our popular culture. With the announcement that James Gandolfini will be in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, the subways are seemingly getting a short shrift lately. The remake of Pelham sounds like it’s taking itself too seriously while the subway maps from GTA4 seem to suggest that Rockstar isn’t taking our subways seriously enough. Alas, what’s a subway fan to do?

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