ON DVD & BLU-RAY
The Incident (1967) dir: Larry Peerce Blu Ray (Eureka!)
Ordeal on a late-night subway train
Two psychotic street thugs - Joe Ferrone (Tony Musante) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen) - board a late-night New York subway train and start to subject the passengers to a gruelling and humiliating ordeal. They include two army privates (played by Beau Bridges and Robert Bannard), a militant African-American (Brock Peters) and his more moderate social worker wife (Ruby Dee), an elderly Jewish couple (Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter), two parents (Ed McMahon and Diana Van der Vlis) and their sleeping daughter (Kathleen Smith), a history teacher (Mike Kellin) and his overly demanding wife (Jan Sterling), a divorcee (Gary Merrill), a gay man (Robert Fields), a cocky young guy (Victor Arnold) who is out with a reluctant date (Donna Mills), and a sleeping bum (Henry Proach).
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Disturbing and tense stuff
The Incident is a taut, horrifyingly sustained mixture of thriller and social commentary. The way in which it is structured somewhat predates the 1970s “disaster movie” cycle in that it features a large ensemble cast who are introduced in a series of character vignettes throughout the first half of the runtime.
It’s a device that works eminently well because it helps us to get to know the characters (even if some of them are on the stereotypical side) and pays off in the resultant explosion of tension. It’s the two thugs who are introduced first of all in a violent pre-credit sequence where they mug a hapless employee on the way home from his shift. Tony Musante and Martin Sheen are truly frightening in their roles. While Musante’s Joe is the dominant one here (in many ways, prefiguring Krug from Wes Craven’s later Last House on the Left), Sheen’s Artie - impulsive and almost catlike in his sadistic playfulness - is a more-than-willing accomplice. Their early introduction helps to establish a dark pallor over the proceedings just as much as Gerald Hirschfeld’s moody, noir-influenced nighttime cinematography does.
The other character introductions come thick and fast as they make their way towards the subway and their harrowing shared fate. Particular standouts include Brock Peters as an African-American man who rages at a ticket seller over a (perhaps accidental) piece of perceived racist behaviour, Mike Kellin as an unassuming husband and Jan Sterling as his nagging wife, and Jack Gilford as a vocal old man who is disgusted at the disrespect that he sees in the younger generations. One of the more unusual and progressive touches is that Robert Fields plays his gay man role without falling into the kind of camp stereotyping that was common in this era. He’s just an ordinary guy who happens to like other guys.
Once we get to the point when Joe and Artie board the train, the film cranks the intensity up to maximum levels. There’s some great camerawork here; watch out for those POV shots as they swing around the poles inside the compartment. However, it’s the behaviour of the various characters which provides the real impact here. While one passenger after another is subjected to humiliation and abuse by the pair, most of them are reluctant to stand up to them. Even when they do, they quickly back down at the slightest threat and thus allow them to continue unopposed. While the pair ultimately receive a well-deserved comeuppance, it’s not before the film spends an uncomfortably long time within the four walls of the compartment as the various characters are shamefully degraded and reduced. Remember - for evil to succeed, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing.
The psychological nature of the brutality has lost none of its power to shock and disturb even today. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it gives Michael Haneke’s Funny Games a run for its money in the discomfort stakes.
Runtime: 100 mins
Dir: Larry Peerce
Script: Nicholas E. Baehr
Starring: Tony Musante, Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Jack Gilford, Thelma Ritter, Ed McMahon, Diana Van der Vlis, Mike Kellin, Jan Sterling, Gary Merrill, Robert Fields, Robert Bannard, Victor Arnold, Donna Mills, Kathleen Smith, Henry Proach
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The monochrome images are spot-on in terms of contrast and detail here, making the terrifying onscreen scenario feel all the more vivid.
The extras here include an audio commentary by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, a Q&A with director Larry Peerce taken from the 2017 Wisconsin Film Festival, and a collector’s booklet featuring writings from the likes of Samm Deighan and Barry Forshaw plus a real-life historic pamphlet entitled Welcome to Fear City: A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York.
While New York City might be a far safer place nowadays than it was back then, The Incident still packs a considerable punch as a pure urban nightmare.