🎞 My review of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974) from imdb.com
Directed by Joseph Sargent. With Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo. In New York, armed men hijack a subway car and demand a ransom for the passengers. Even if it's paid, how could they get away?

A great classic film starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Hector Elizondo, and Jerry Stiller. The plot and story (as well as some great 70’s cinematography) holds up incredibly well and far better than most of its contemporaries. The score of the film does have the definite tone of the 70’s, but isn’t so overbearingly stereotypical as movies which came later in the decade.

While headed by Walter Matthau, this film is far more serious in tone and there are few, if any, bits of humor stemming from his Lt. Garber character (or they just don’t play as well now). The final freeze frame of Matthau’s which closes the film (in an early American studio feature nod to the French New Wave) does have a fantastic feel of sardonic comedy though. Matthau’s function in the film reminded me more of his turn in Charade (1963) than his extensive body of comedic work.

Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)
Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)

The film does fit well into the crime/drama/thriller progression of the modern blockbuster which includes its classic predecessors: Bonnie and Clyde (Warner Bros., 1967), Bullitt (Warner Bros., 1968), The Italian Job (Paramount, 1969), The French Connection (20th Century Fox, 1971), Shaft (MGM, 1971), Dirty Harry (Warner Bros., 1971), and Magnum Force (Warner Bros., 1973).

The movie is set in a time period after the prison riot at Attica which is mentioned in passing by the mayor’s staff, but before the film Dog Day Afternoon (Warner Bros., 1975). It’s also obviously set in a time period when people expect airplane hijacks, but think it’s laughable that anyone would consider a subway hijack. (This likely played into the high-concept idea of the studio consider making it originally). However, none of the train passengers takes the hijacking very seriously or seems very scared by the four rough looking characters carrying high powered and automatic weapons. This may be because the terrorism of the late 70’s, early 80’s, or even early 2000s had not yet happened; it was also set prior to John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday (Paramount, 1979). I find it interesting that the hijackers in the piece actually verbally explain the capacity and killing power of their weapons as if none of the everyday people on the train would understand their automatic capabilities. (This assuredly wouldn’t happen in a modern-day version.) I have to imagine that more modern actor portrayals would have been much more fearful early on. Here no one seems very upset until Mr. Blue shoots the subway car driver in the back. Until then they just seem like they’re a bit “put out”. As an aside, the perpetrators’ going by the names Blue, Green, Grey, and Brown was most assuredly the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s use of similar names for the characters in Resevoir Dogs (Miramax, 1992) which also included the quote “let’s do it by the books”.

pelham-123-subway The film includes a fantastic (though possibly stereotypical) portrayal of 70’s culture through the characters of multiple ethnicities and cultural types. These are borne out in the credit sequence with character “names” which actually include: The Maid, The Mother, The Homosexual, The Secretary, The Delivery Boy, The Salesman, The Hooker, The Old Man, The Older Son, The Spanish Woman, The Alcoholic, The Pimp, Coed #1, The Younger Son, Coed #2, The Hippie, and The W.A.S.P. One of my favorite stereotypes (which the film may have first immortalized) was the hippie woman calmly chanting “Om” and then later “Om stop” on the runaway subway hoping it wouldn’t crash.

As an indicator of racial change, there’s an odd exchange (that may have been funny at the time), but to a more modern viewer is now just awkward:

Lt. Garber: [looking for the inspector] Inspector Daniels?
Inspector Daniels: [identifying himself] Daniels.
Lt. Garber: [realizing DCI Daniels is African-American] Oh, I, uh, thought you were, uh, like a shorter guy or – I don’t know what I thought.

There’s also a nice indicator of the growth of stature in women in society as the lead character posits (several times) that a plain clothes police officer might in fact be a woman, a fact that one of Garber’s colleagues failed to contemplate. This is offset by a zany statement by an old, gruff (and somewhat marginalized) subway supervisor (following a prior litany of profanity, by almost everyone in the room):

Caz Dolowicz, subway supervisor played by Tom Pedi
in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)


I’ll have to go back and rewatch the remake again to further compare the portrayal of the two time periods. I will note that the mayor’s deputy comes in at one point in this incarnation and says to him, “Pull your pants up Al, we’re going downtown.” I can’t help but sadly imagine that in a remake, the mayor wouldn’t be laying sick in bed getting a shot in the ass, but would more likely be sitting behind his desk with a woman in a compromising position to get the cheap laugh.

The film also includes some great, but short character actor turns by Tony Roberts as the Mayor’s assistant, Doris Roberts (almost unrecognizable to modern day Everybody Loves Raymond fans) as the mayor’s wife, Kenneth McMillan, and a middle-aged Joe Seneca.

I also noticed an obscure, early production office coordinator credit for Barbara DaFina, better known as Barbara De Fina, much later a well-known and prolific producer and production manager, known for Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) and Hugo (2011). She was married to Martin Scorsese from 1985 – 1991, though she had a nice body of work even prior to that.

Another quote that I can’t help but mention not only for its sheer joy but because it’s also one of the first lines of spoken dialogue of the film:

The Pimp played by George Lee Miles, referring to his clothing, confidence, and swagger on the dark, dank subway platform
in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)


In the pantheon of first lines of poetry, this captures the tone of its time incredibly well.

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Commutative Diagrams in LaTeX

A meta-review of resources for typesetting commutative diagrams in TeX & LaTeX. Save time in trying to find the right commutative diagram package on CTAN.


With my studies in category theory trundling along, I thought I’d take  moment to share some general resources for typesetting commutative diagrams in \LaTeX. I’ll outline below some of the better resources and recommendations I’ve found, most by much more dedicated and serious users than I. Following that I’ll list a few resources, articles, and writings on some of the more common packages that I’ve seen mentioned.

Naturally, just reading through some of the 20+ page user guides to some of these packages can be quite daunting, much less wading through the sheer number that exist.  Hopefully this one-stop-shop meta-overview will help others save some time trying to figure out what they’re looking for.

Feruglio Summary

Gabriel Valiente Feruglio has a nice overview article naming all the primary packages with some compare/contrast information. One will notice it was from 1994, however, and misses a few of the more modern packages including TikZ. His list includes: AMS; Barr (diagxy); Borceux; Gurari; Reynolds; Rose (XY-pic); Smith (Arrow); Spivak; Svensson (kuvio); Taylor (diagrams); and Van Zandt (PSTricks). He lists them alphabetically and gives brief overviews of some of the functionality of each.

Feruglio, Gabriel Valiente. Typesetting Commutative Diagrams.  TUGboat, Volume 15 (1994), No. 4

Milne Summary

J.S. Milne has a fantastic one-page quick overview description of several available packages with some very good practical advise to users depending on the level of their needs. He also provides a nice list of eight of the most commonly used packages including: array (LaTeX); amscd (AMS); DCpic (Quaresma); diagrams (Taylor); kuvio (Svensson); tikz (Tantau); xymatrix (Rose); and diagxy (Barr). It’s far less formal than Feruglio, but is also much more modern. I also found it a bit more helpful for trying to narrow down one or more packages with which to play around.

Milne, J.S. Guide to Commutative Diagram Packages.

Spivak Pseudo-recommendations

David Spivak, the author of Category Theory for the Sciences, seems to prefer XY-pic, diagXY, and TikZ based on his website from which he links to guides to each of these.

Resources for some of the “Bigger” Packages

Based on the recommendations given in several of the resources above, I’ve narrowed the field a bit to some of the better sounding packages. I’ve provided links to the packages with some of the literature supporting them.

Diagxy: Michael Barr

XY-pic: Kristoffer Rose & Ross Moore

Diagrams: Paul Taylor

TikZ-CD: Florêncio Neves

Is there a particular package you recommend? Feel free to add your thoughts, comments, and additional resources in the comments below.

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Robert Greenberg’s Music Curriculum

The Learning Company Improves My Commute

For quite a while, primarily because of lengthy commute times in Los Angeles, I’ve been regularly listening to audio lectures from The Learning Company in their Great Courses series.  Last fall I came across a four volume collection entitled How to Listen to and Understand Great Music taught by the dynamic and engaging professor Robert Greenberg.  I was immediately entranced and have vowed to work my way through his entire opus of lectures.  At the time I wasn’t quite sure how many there actually were, though I was aware of at least four others I’d come across on library shelves, and I prayed that there would be one or two more to carry me through a couple of years.  If I needed to, I was fully prepared to listen to everything two or three times to really soak it all in the way I’ve done with repeated viewings of television shows like The West Wing.

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, Third Edition

When I was partway through the series, I made an update to my Goodreads.com reading list with a short snippet about my progress. This progress update fed through to Twitter whereupon I was pleasantly surprised to receive an encouraging comment by Professor Greenberg, who apparently takes the time to search social media for mentions of his work and to respond to students.  A brief correspondence with him revealed that he’s recorded far more lectures than I could have dreamed – an astounding 26!

Robert Greenberg’s Curriculum Recommendation

Of course with such a fantastic and tremendously large list of what is sure to be brilliant material, the real question becomes: “How do I create a curriculum to wend my way through it all in the most logical manner!”

Robert Greenberg to the rescue!

Via a most helpful Twitter conversation, Professor Greenberg recommended a curriculum for plowing through his material.  For posterity, I’ll repeat it below for those who are interested in charting his recommended course of courses:

  1. How to Listen to & Understand Great Music
  2. The Fundamentals of Music
  3. How to Listen to Opera
  4. Bach & the High Baroque
  5. The Concerto
  6. The Symphony
  7. Great Masters: Haydn
  8. Great Masters: Mozart
  9. Operas of Mozart
  10. Chamber Music of Mozart
  11. Great Masters: Beethoven
  12. Symphonies of Beethoven
  13. Piano Sonatas of Beethoven
  14. Piano Sonatas of Beethoven
  15. Great Masters: Schumanns
  16. Great Masters: Liszt
  17. Great Masters: Brahms
  18. Music of Richard Wagner
  19. Life & Music of Verdi
  20. Great Masters: Tchaikovsky
  21. Great Masters: Mahler
  22. Great Masters: Stravinsky
  23. Great Masters: Shostakovich
  24. The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
  25. The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works (October 2013)
  26. Concert Masterworks

Given the magnitude of his opus, this obviously may not be everything, but will provide the tyro as well as the expert a clearer path through some fascinating work. I’ve presently worked my way through 3 of his courses (72 lectures comprising  54 hours of material), so I’ve only barely scratched the surface, but I couldn’t be more enticed and satisfied with what I’ve consumed so far.  His engaging lecturing style, the melodic quality of his voice (not too far from that of renowned announcer and voice artist Casey Casem – though with out the “big bottom” common to radio personalities of this type), and the dynamic range of his emotion make these series more entertaining that most of what is on television these days (and keep in mind I consume a lot of television). Even better, I’m always learning something while I’m listening.  I would dare to say that even if he “phoned in” the remaining lectures, they’d still be at an absurdly high quality level, and I would still want to devour them all.

Follow Robert Greenberg

Robert Greenberg Headshot: Graying Hair, wearing glasses, a slight smirk, black suit and tie with teal colored shirtFor others who are (or are soon sure to become) fans of Robert Greenberg, you can find him easily on Twitter and Facebook.
Happy listening!
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