Tag Archives: Dick O’ Neilll

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Subway passengers held hostage.

Four men wearing disguises and going by code names: Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) board the same subway car, this one being the Pelham 1-2-3, at different locations. Once all four are onboard they take out their guns and take over the subway car by holding both passengers and conductor hostage. For their release they demand $1 million in ransom to be paid in 1-hour and for every minute that it is late one passenger will be killed. They communicate these demands to Lt. Zack Garber (Walter Matthau) who is a part of the New York City Transit police. As Mr. Blue and Garber communicate with each other over the radio and the city races to meet the crooks demands Garber begins to try and surmise who these men are and how they’ll be able to get away with it since they’re trapped in an underground subway. Garber is convinced that it will not work and the men will eventually be caught unaware that Mr. Green, who used to work for the subway system until he was, in his mind, unfairly terminated, has come up with an ingenious contraption that can override the dead-man’s switch and allow the train to keep running even with no one at the controls.

The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by John Godey, who was a subway enthusiast and came-up with the plot after spending many years using the subway system. While the movie rights for the paperback were sold for $450,000, in anticipation that it’d make a great movie, the film almost didn’t get made due to the reluctance of the Metropolitan Transit Authority to allow the production to be filmed on-location.  Much of the reason stemmed from their fear that it might give ‘kooks’ the idea to pull-off a real-life heist, but eventually they caved once screenwriter Peter Stone added in the fictional contraption that could override the dead-man’s switch.

As a caper/action flick it is quite exciting from literally the first-frame to the last, but it’s some of the other added elements that make it a standout. I really enjoyed how the city of New York becomes like a third character and the unique, brash attitude of the people. Every character, no matter how small the part, has a distinct personality and memorable. My favorites were Mari Gorman as the feisty hooker, Michael Gorrin, as the elderly passenger convinced that the subway car must eventually come to a stop even as it careens out-of-control and everyone else panics. I also enjoyed Louie Larebee as an alcoholic woman, who is so drunk that she passes out when the crime begins and sleeps through the whole thing as well as Carolyn Nelson, the real-life wife of the film’s director Joseph Sargent, playing a college coed who believes she can stop the train through sheer mind control and meditation.

On the ground there’s some great character bits too including Tom Pedi as an aging, misogynist who doesn’t like the idea of having to work alongside women, nor that he should stop cursing because of it, who walks right into the line-of-fire when he stubbornly refuses to listen to the kidnappers warnings. Kenneth McMillan, is very funny as an exasperated street cop trying to direct traffic, and Dick O’Neill lends moments of drama as an outspoken transit employee who doesn’t like the idea of giving into the kidnappers demands and isn’t shy about voicing his disapproval, which leads to a tense confrontation with Matthau.

Matthau’s anti-hero take where he seems initially like nothing more than a aloof, laid-back guy, who doesn’t seem to have the cunning, or initiative to defeat the bad guys. At one point even openly insults a group of Japanese reporters who he thinks can’t speak English only to learn to his regret that they can, is excellent and in patented Matthau style seems to be able to do it without much visible effort.

Shaw is solid, but I felt there needed to be an explanation for how he got bought into the scheme, which never comes and ultimately is the film’s only real weak point. His personality is so different from the other men in the group that I couldn’t understand why he’d want to pull-off a robbery with them, nor why, being such a careful planner that his character is shown to be, he’d only realize as the crime is happening that the Mr. Gray was too much of a hot-head and not right for the job, as I’d think he would’ve observed this much earlier during the planning stage and had Gray removed before the actual crime had ever been carried out. Having scenes of the backstory spliced in would’ve helped made it more complete.

This was remade as a TV-movie in 1998 and then as another feature film in 2009 that starred Denzel Washington in the Matthau role and John Travolta playing Shaw’s part. I never saw the TV version and it’s been many years since I viewed the theatrical remake, but I remember finding it a letdown mainly because it centered too much around Travolta, who would go on long rants that bogged down both the pace and plot making it not nearly as exciting as this one.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Some of My Best Friends Are… (1971)

some of my best friends are 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Patronizing a gay bar.

It’s Christmas Eve 1970 and a year and a half after the Stonewall Riots that first brought gay rights issues into the national spotlight. However, the patrons of the local Blue Jay Bar are still feeling like second class citizens where dancing between two men is prohibited and those who have come out about their homosexuality are being rejected by their family and friends.

The film certainly does bring up some great issues, but unfortunately pales badly when compared to The Boys in the Band that came out just a year earlier. The direction lacks style and the dialogue is too generic to be riveting. The film also has no momentum as the camera simply cuts from one group of conversing people to another. The on-location shooting done at the Zodiac Bar gives the production a static, claustrophobic feeling since almost the entire thing takes place in one building. The lighting is also dark and shadowy and at certain points even out-of-focus making it all seem quite amateurish.

The action is minimal in what is otherwise a very talky 110 minute runtime. The best moment is when Gary Sandy, who’s excellent in his film debut, and playing a man in denial about his homosexuality becomes enraged when he finds that the woman he has been dancing with (played by Candy Darling who is also excellent) is actually a man, which causes him to drag her into the bathroom and beat her that in turn creates a huge riot that is genuinely tense and startling. The scene where a mother enters the bar and openly disavows her son after finding out that he is gay is also quite good, but should’ve been extended.

Fannie Flagg gets kudos for her highly engaging performance as a snarky lady who never seems at a loss for words or verbal comeback. The way she dances by giggling her large breasts up and done like they are rubber balls is a crazy sight. Rue McClanahan is also good as a bitchy, aging blonde and so is Dick O’Neill as a conservative old-timer who shows great disdain for the ‘pansy pad’ once he finds out that it is a gay bar, but then strangely is still reluctant to leave it. This also marks the film debut of Gil Gerard who appears briefly in a small role.

The film’s few good moments and overall impactful message are badly outweighed by Mervyn Nelson’s dull direction as well as its rambling narrative that lacks a central character and makes for a flat and tedious viewing experience.

some of my best friends are 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mervyn Nelson

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Hail (1973)

hail 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The President goes nuts.

The President of the United States (Dan Resin) is going insane and it has become painfully obvious to all those around him. He wants to suspend congress and elections and has created concentration camps where hippies and other ‘liberal subversives’ are taken and he even drowns mice in buckets of water for relaxation. His staff decides it is up to them to take him out before he puts the country at risk. They hold a gumball lottery and whoever picks the gumball that has the number one on it will be chosen to carry out the assassination. The oldest member of the group who is 90 gets it, but when he chokes on the gumball while chewing it before putting in his dentures it is then up to the Secretary of Health (Richard B. Shull), but the President has spies that have infiltrated the group and is fully aware of what they are trying to do and has a secret plan of his own.

This film is satire the way it should be. It makes fun of both sides and manages to get more hits than misses. It was made in an age before political correctness and wasn’t afraid of who it might offend and thus throws it all out there in a creatively reckless and experimental fashion making it enjoyable all the way through. The pace is breezy and a terrific time capsule to a bygone era.

There are some unique scenes here that you won’t see anywhere else. Some of the highlights include a 4-man ‘hand band’ where a group of men get together to play ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ for an audience by cupping their hands together. The scene where the President’s army attacks and beats hippies at a commune that is done in slow motion and to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’ by Judy Collins is effective and the twist ending involving a wooden leg isn’t bad either.

Director Fred Levinson shows great potential. The variety of camera angles, stylish editing and knowing humor are all first-rate and should have been the start of a great career. Unfortunately the rumor is that Richard Nixon didn’t like the film and considered it a personal insult and used his connections to put pressure on the studios not to distribute it, which eventually led to it falling into complete obscurity. The only other thing that Levinson did afterwards was directing the famous Hertz commercials that featured O.J. Simspson sprinting through an airport terminal, which is a real shame and waste.

Gary Sandy, who later became famous for playing Andy Travis in the classic TV-series ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ is highly engaging as a radical hippie leader who disguises himself as an army general. Brandon Maggart is also amusing as a nervous National Guard Sergeant.

The only weak link is Resin as the President. He is probably best known for playing the Tidy Bowl man in some TV-commercials during the 70’s. Here his performance is sterile and one-note. Shull and Dick O’Neill come off as much more interesting simply because they are far better actors.

The film is dated, but in a fun way. It brings back to life the chaotic atmosphere of the era and makes you feel like you are being thrown into the middle of it. The film is extremely rare and hard-to-find, but worth a look if you can locate it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Hail to the Chief

Released: July 27, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Fred Levinson

Studio: Cine Globe

Available: None at this time.