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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Incident (1967)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Martin Sheen, Tony Musante, Jan Sterling, Thelma Ritter, Beau Bridges, Jack Gilford, Brock Peters and Ruby Dee
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 12 August 2019

The Incident spends its first half introducing us to disparate people, mostly couples, from all over New York City, who find their individual ways to an urban transit train car that will take them home in the middle of the night. Their late night ride is the second half of the story. Nobody is happy, with the exception of two soldiers (Beau Bridges and Robert Bannard) who share a sort of desperate optimism for getting out of the Army, read that, the war in Viet Nam.

The last two passengers to enter are straight out of tenement hell, two pathological punks (Tony Musante and Martin Sheen) who spend the rest of the movie terrorizing their captive fellow passengers in what becomes a one-room drama of violent inquisition. One-room stories get the sobriquet ‘bottle stories’ in the industry and are known for their pressure cooker tension and grinding terror. Viewers on this site will fondly know about bottle movies like Saw (2004), 1408 (2007) and the granddaddy of them all, Rear Window (1954).

The Incident is only half a bottle story and its obvious formulaic tracks are as predetermined as the rails on which the train takes its bomber crew of characters. A much more effective bottle story, Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), is reviewed on these pages. The difference is directorial energy and imaginativeness. Larry Peerce can’t find enough visual creativity in the constrained space; Robert Altman can. And, of course, so can Alfred Hitchcock in Rear Window or Rope (1948) or Lifeboat (1944) or Sidney Lumet in the master exercise in bottle drama 12 Angry Men (1957) or Quentin Tarrantino in Reservoir Dogs (1992) or The Hateful Eight (2015).

(See Mojo’s top ten one-scene movies and note what titles are and are not included.

Also, black and white cinematography could have been a plus, a neo-noirish underscore for the psychological gravitas but instead Peerce opts for a flat omni-lit effect in the car and when given opportunity for angular shadows in the streets and stairwells, he assiduously ignores them. It’s a New York ash can drama approach to filming, grungy, unvariegated, a night film wanting to be anti-noir. Hip or just reactionary hypnic jerk? The viewer must decide.

All the more sad when it’s realized The Incident’s cinematographer is Gerald Hirschfeld, who would go on to lend a wonderful supple manifold look to Young Frankenstein (1974). Peerce’s choices are stubbornly wrong, wilfully opaque. The Incident is a visual opportunity lost. The black and white work of Gabriel Figueroa for Buñuel’s Los Olvidados (1950) makes this poignantly clear. Hirschfeld was not allowed to do this when in reality he could.

What then is of value here? A bottle story is so much fizz if the acting isn’t good and the acting here is top form. What’s lacking is narrative surprise. The psychological disrobing of the characters in the fangs of jackal terrorism becomes tedious and predictable. Everybody’s dirty knickers get hung out for display. So one had just better appreciate the acting all along the trip. Finding contentment for what is, rather than what could have been, is its own form of cinematic zen.

The standouts are the arseholes, Joe and Artie; Musante and Sheen must have known they were getting the plums in the pie. It was Sheen’s motion picture debut. He was a commodity in television and was known for being able to play a truly maniacal sociopath, a charismatically endowed leering force of darkness. He had broken in doing it on the Route 66 series in an episode titled And the Cat Jumped Over the Moon, season 2, episode 12 in 1961. His reading of the Stirling Silliphant script, directed by Elliot Silverstein, was, if anything, more menacing than his work for Peerce here.

(This YouTube clip is not the best quality, a bit out of synch, but I submit it for your view anyway because Sheen’s presence and believability is undeniable. I’m sure this work is why he got the role in The Incident.)

Tony Musante would go to Italy soon after this to topline a penultimate giallo, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970) directed by Dario Argento at the zenith of his genre form. I am sure the actor’s work in The Incident was the reason he was cast by Argento. Musante and Sheen are a duet of psychopathic delight. They reinforce each other and compete at who can be the craziest. It’s a horse race to a photo finish and reminds us that villains are always more attractive than heroes.

The Eureka Entertainment engineering here is state of the art. The film looks better than when this film zombie saw it with decent theater projection in 1967. The extras are well worthwhile including an extensive docu interview with Peerce himself. He represents an assertion of individuality against the studio gloss of yore. The film is true to its era and to itself. Fans of bare knuckle acting will not be disappointed.


John Huff

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