The world's tubes compared

  • 13 TBETS 5.jpg
    Paris © Oliver Knight

    On film


    There are horrors down there, including alien spaceships (‘Quatermass and the Pit’, 1967) and sleeping dragons (‘Reign of Fire’, 2002). In ‘Death Line’ (1972), Donald Pleasence finds in-bred, plague-ridden cannibals and Tottenham Court Road is in John Landis’ ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981). Franka Potente discovers the dangers of the last train home in ‘Creep’ (2004) and director Ben Hopkins views commuters as zombies in ‘The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz’ (2000).


    ‘Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable’ (1973) opens with two policemen trying to arrest ‘Scorpion’ Kaji Meiko on the Tokyo subway – she slashes one and hacks an arm off the other. No such revenge is exacted on the middle-aged man who gropes women in packed carriages in ‘Tandem’ (1994), an example of the notorious Japanese ‘pink’ genre.


    Franka Potente (again) has to raise 100,000 marks in 20 minutes in Tom Tykwer’s ‘Run Lola Run’ (1998), so has to descend into the U-Bahn to make up time. ‘Möbius 17’ (2005) sees trains vanish into a parallel universe.


    There’s not a lot on Moscow’s tubes, but similar Eastern Bloc lines do crop up on film. The Hungarian capital’s Metro system is seen as a Kafka-esque bureaucracy of confusion and farce in ‘Kontroll’ (2003), a series of tales involving a group of benign ticket inspectors.


    No country has taken its underground system so much to heart as France – from Georges Franju in 1958 (‘The First Night’) through to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s ‘Amélie’ (2001). Perhaps the ultimate ‘underground’ film is 1985’s ‘Subway’, where director Luc Besson spices his unlikely romance with chases, shoot-outs, comedy, and even a musical feel. Christopher Lambert encounters a hidden world of rollerskating crooks, bodybuilders and pop wannabes.

    New York

    The subway is about dirty dealing and suspense. Walter Matthau is the cop trying to sort out a subway hijacking in ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ (1974); later,Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson decide to steal the transit authority’s weekly takings in ‘Money Train’ (1995). In the ’90s it was the site for the thrills of ‘Speed’ (1994) and ‘Die Hard: With a Vengeance’ (1995), but one moment is still touted as the best chase in cinema history: the race between train and car (under the raised BMT West End Line) in ‘The French Connection’ (1971).


    Its ‘Clockwork Orange’ nickname is not related to Kubrick’s film (it’s because the line runs in a circle, and the carriages are orange), and we couldn’t find a notable cinematic outing here. It does appear in the novel ‘Espedair Street’ by Iain Banks as the setting for the a pub crawl in which characters consume a whisky and a half of ‘Heavy’ at every stop.

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