Men board a subway train in New York and, halfway between stops, take it over and shut it down, holding a single car hostage in the tunnel.
This is the premise of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three, a film from the early 70's that heralds the coming of films like The French Connection, but without the humorless and bleak undertones.
Walter Matthau stars as a transit police lieutenant who has to deal with the crisis, as four men hold the passengers hostage in exchange for a million dollars. His nemesis, Mr. Blue, is played by Robert Shaw, the villain's color-based code names obviously being an inspiration for Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs heisters.
What follows is a tense standoff and the mystery of how the four men in the tunnel expect to escape, no shortage of wit and bitter comedy taking place outside the tunnel, where an incompetent mayor attempts to pull his weight and the acid-tongued Matthau tries to keep the situation in hand and take stock of the kidnappers.
Probably one of the best films of the time period, the simplicity and lack of unnecesary 70's grimness gives the 60's feel of the proceeding a touch of the future of crime films without stripping away all the fun. Vulgar and smartly humorous, the film doesn't carry unneeded fat and keeps a high pace. Nothing stops the film from start to finish and it makes you wish for the days of Matthau again, when a man could be just as funny as he was serious.
One of the finer films of the 1970's and an unheralded classic, the ensemble cast delivers an excellent and well-thought-out movie, still enjoyable today.