Walter Matthau as Zachary Garber, New York City Transit Authority police lieutenant
New York City, December 1973
Film: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Release Date: October 2, 1974
Director: Joseph Sargent
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Walter Matthau, perhaps best known to today’s audiences for his roles opposite Jack Lemmon such as The Odd Couple and the Grumpy Old Men movies, though the New York-born actor’s rich filmography expands a range of genres from westerns and war movies to comedies and crime capers. One of my favorites falls into the latter category, the action thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
Released one day after Matthau’s 54th birthday, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three stars the actor as a scrappy New York City Transit Authority police lieutenant whose bad day gets considerably worse once a well-armed team led by the calculating ex-mercenary Bernard Ryder, aka “Mr. Blue”, (Robert Shaw) hijacks a subway. No longer capable of sustaining “a normal woik week,” Lieutenant Garber enlists the help of his pal, fellow lieutenant Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller).
Patrone: What’s up, Z?
Garber: You won’t believe it.
Patrone: You know me, I’ll believe anything.
Garber: A train has been hijacked.
Patrone: I don’t believe it.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is one of my favorite “New York movies”, alongside Sweet Smell of Success, Annie Hall, and Manhattan, bolstered by the Lower East Side-born Matthau’s performance as the believably beleaguered transit cop trying to maintain the lives—and sanity—of all involved. At one tense moment, Garber can’t help but to advise the chief thief:
Listen, fella, I hope you take this in the right spirit but after this is over, you should seek out psychiatric help.
What’d He Wear?
Costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone had two decades of experience dressing some of most iconic characters on both sides of the law with credits including On the Waterfront (1954), The Godfather (1972), Serpico (1973), and Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Between dressing Al Pacino in silk suits and filed jackets, Johnstone found the time to put together a delightfully chaotic and surprisingly accessible ensemble for Walter Matthau’s haggard transit lieutenant Zachary Garber, which has been the subject of several requests from readers including Blake, Guido, and H.F.
The New York City Transit Authority may be a bustling hub of computers and communications systems, but its staff could hardly be mistaken for NASA engineers in their array of stout and slackened ties, rumpled knitwear, and shirts in every hue. There are some exceptions who prefer more traditional business dress—most notably Lieutenant Patrone and the visiting delegation from Japan—but Garber’s autumnal palette fits with the overall NYCTA office “uniform”. That said, Garber shows a keener eye for dressing, opting for a tasteful and timeless tweed jacket and at least attempting to keep his tie knotted to the neck.
Garber’s woolen tweed sports coat is woven in a tan and cream herringbone, so named for the broken twill weave’s resemblance to a fish skeleton. The weave on Garber’s jacket isn’t the traditional herringbone; instead, each “column” of herringbone-style chevrons alternates with a column of the same threads, birdseye-woven.
Despite tweed’s origins in the British Isles, Garber wears an appropriately American unstructured cut with soft, natural shoulders, similar to the sack coats popularized by U.S. outfitters like Brooks Brothers from the turn of the century onward.
The single-breasted jacket has notch lapels that roll over the top of three mixed plastic sew-through buttons for what is known as a 3/2 roll with two matching buttons at the end of each cuff. The lapels, the welt over the breast pocket, and the hip pocket flaps are detailed with sporty “swelled” edges. Though the mid-1970s was a time of excess for most menswear, Garber’s jacket is cut and styled in a manner that transcends its decade, with traditional detailing, moderate widths of lapels and pocket flaps, and only a somewhat longer-than-usual single rear vent betraying its temporal provenance.
“It’s a testament to the power of Matthau as an actor that his garishly appalling shirt and tie do not distract from his performance,” tweeted director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie during a rewatch of the movie in January 2020. Indeed, while Garber’s tweed sport jacket would have a deserved place in any gentleman’s closet, the same cannot be said for that colorful shirt and tie. That’s not to say that the look is altogether tasteless—in fact, I’d argue that Matthau wears both quite well—but neither are necessarily menswear essentials and instead are reflective of Garber’s charmingly colorful personality.
The shirt is a small-scaled tartan plaid in red, yellow, and teal blue, likely off-the-rack with the decade’s favorite collar, long-pointed with substantial tie space to accommodate a decent-sized knot. The shirt has a breast pocket and white plastic buttons that contrast against the colorful shirting on the front placket and closing each cuff.
A shirt like that considerably limits one’s tie choices to solid colors, and choosing one that coordinates without clashing. Bright and unorthodox though it may be, Garber’s golden tie may be the best way to go, calling out the yellow check from the shirt while contrasting enough to not get lost in the busy shirt.
Garber wears plain brown flat front trousers with side pockets, jetted back pockets (without buttons), and plain-hemmed bottoms. He also wears a wide dark brown leather belt through the trousers’ loops, closing through a squared, gold-toned single-prong buckle.
Brown shoes are a safe bet with an outfit like this, and Garber appears to dress for the office in a pair of chestnut brown calf cap-toe oxford semi-brogues, worn with black socks. In an interesting continuity error, his brown shoes appear to have a more prominent moc-toe by the time he’s down in the subway, a switch likely made to avoid Matthau needing to wear office shoes in this dirtier setting.
The swap is forgivable; he still wears brown lace-ups, and the subway scene is so darkly lit that it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it catch… especially considering that this thriller was made considerably before audiences had high-resolution home video where they could pause and notice that Walter Matthau has now wearing different shoes.
Garber wears a plain gold-toned wristwatch with a round, light-colored dial on a dark brown leather strap that closes through a gold single-prong buckle.
When the events of the day lure Garber from his office, he puts on his khaki gabardine raincoat. December in New York City may call for something heavier for most people, but Garber’s classic bal-type raincoat is a versatile, weather-ready top layer that can be comfortably worn over his already-heavy tweed jacket. The raglan-sleeved coat has slanted side pockets with single-button closure and small semi-tabs that button on each cuff for an adjusted fit. The front closes up a five-button covered fly.
Hat and gloves are also necessities for winter in the Big Apple, both supplementing the coat for extra warmth and protection when Garber heads outside. His lined three-point gloves are caramel brown leather.
While a fedora or even a more structured trilby worn with his raincoat may have affected an image reminiscent of a film noir anti-hero, Garber opts instead for a genteel tweed trilby. (Not unlike Carl Reiner’s topper in Ocean’s Thirteen, which would be gently derided by Ellen Barkin’s character as “the Doctor Doolittle hat.”) Garber’s soft, unstructured trilby is constructed from twin threads not unlike his sport jacket, though a darker olive brown is mixed with cream, woven in a nailhead pattern with a self-band.
One gets the sense that Lieutenant Garber’s day-to-day work doesn’t call for much use from his service handgun, though the unprecedented circumstances that lead him down into the subway tunnels call for an appearance from Smith & Wesson Model 10 snub-nosed revolver.
Smith & Wesson introduced what would become the go-to police cartridge of the 20th century, the .38 Special, in tandem with its “Military & Police” revolver just before the dawn of the 20th century. By the 1970s, .38 Special six-shooters from Smith & Wesson and Colt dominated the American law enforcement market, with the latest evolution of the six-shot Military & Police revolver now designated the Smith & Wesson Model 10 after the manufacturer had started numbering its models in the ’50s.
Indeed, it was Colt who had foreseen the need for an easily concealable .38 Special nearly a half-century earlier when the Colt Detective Special was marketed in 1927. Smith & Wesson responded a generation later with the smaller-framed Model 36 “Chiefs Special”, though the increased concealment came at the cost with the cylinder reduced to five rather than six shots. For Smith & Wesson fans who wanted the full compliment of six .38 Special rounds, the Model 10 was also available with a “snub-nosed” two-inch barrel as opposed to the 4″-barreled variant that was frequently issued to uniformed officers across the 20th century. (In fact, I believe the 2″-barreled Smith & Wesson .38 was first offered around 1915, though it wouldn’t be as effectively marketed as a “belly gun” as the later Detective Special.)
What’d He Wear?
In his excellent review for Cinephelia & Beyond, Tim Pelan describes Zachary Garber as “a clothing colorblind Colombo.” This thoughtful shorthand describes Garber’s approaches to both dressing and detecting, though I believe Matthau’s character earns some points for colorful originality (and effective coordination) anchored by his tasteful tweed sports coat.
- Tan and cream herringbone-and-birdseye woolen tweed single-breasted 3/2-roll sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and long single vent
- Red, yellow, and teal mini-plaid cotton shirt with long point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and squared button cuffs
- Yellow tie
- Brown flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown belt with squared gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Brown calf cap-toe oxford semi-brogues
- Black socks
- Khaki gabardine bal-type raincoat with covered 5-button fly front, slanted side pockets, single vent, and raglan sleeves (with semi-tab cuffs)
- Caramel brown lined leather three-point gloves
- Olive-brown and cream nailhead tweed unstructured trilby
- Gold-toned wristwatch with light dial on dark brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.