The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) was a memorable, superior
thriller in every way, with inspired casting and expertly paced direction
by Joseph Sargent. Robert Shaw was master-villain Mr Blue, arguably his best
role, supported by Walter Matthau as a laconic wise-cracking transit cop
and Martin Balsom as the demoralised yet sensitive Mr Green. The plot revolves
around the hijacking of a New York subway train and the holding to ransom
of its passengers - "We are going to kill one passenger a minute until NewYork
City pays us one million dollars."
For the film David Shire produced a brilliant innovative score which blended
20th Century twelve-tone music with early 1970s pop/jazz/funk
music. The result was a composition that was not only very supportive of
the screenplay but also approachable and interesting to the ear as music
in its own right.
Shire envisioned a score that would be New York jazz-orientated and hard
edged echoing the brash business of the City. For Pelham, he created a tone
row in which the intervals give one the impression of progressive jazz
sonorities. From this basic material he created a theme over a repeated bass
line which would suggest organised chaos "rooting this chaos in an aggressive
and very tonal bass ostinato, suggestive of the New York rhythmic drive that
somehow holds the chaos together." Furthermore he cleverly orchestrated the
music so that it could be heard over the clamour of the subway train. Although
he used an ensemble based on a big band, he de-emphasised his middle range
instruments and accentuated the high end (upper reeds, keyboards and trumpets
and the low end (low bass and woodwinds, low strings and the rhythm section).
He also added an ethnic percussionist and two drumset players to emphasise
the cosmopolitan flavour of New York and the passengers of the train.
The score pounds along with great drama and intensity. An exciting ride and
a thrilling musical experience.