Blu-ray Review: The Incident (1967) Twilight Time Limited Edition

Calling the event depicted herein an 'incident' is quite an understatement.

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The Incident, a forgotten gem of a thriller, deserves widespread recognition for being well ahead of its time. The premise couldn't be simpler: very late at night the end of a wild weekend, troublemaking pals Joe (Tony Musante) and Artie (Martin Sheen) board a New York City subway an proceed to terrorize everyone on board. Kudos to the folks at Twilight Time for bringing this out on Blu-ray for the first time (in a limited edition; 3,000 units).

And this isn't any 'disturbing for its time, tame by today's standards' kind of terrorizing. Director Larry Peerce sets up the drama like a something straight out of a disaster movie. We meet the middle-aged husband (Ed McMahon, yes of The Tonight Show fame—delivering a credible dramatic turn) and wife (Diana Van der Vlis) with their exhausted young daughter. He was too cheap to just hail a cab. There's a pair of uniformed soldiers trying to enjoy a little leisure time, tough Phillip (Robert Bannard) and hayseed Felix (Beau Bridges; hooked by the cast alone yet?). Kenneth (Robert Fields) is a closeted gay man who picked the wrong night to hit on alcoholic Doug (Gary Merrill), who he met at a bar before they both boarded the train. 

TheIncident_BDBookletCover.png That's hardly all. Each of the passengers who are stuck with Joe and Artie (in a somewhat lame conceit, but a necessary one for the narrative, technical problems make it impossible for the people in their car to move about the train) is given an interesting backstory. African-American Arnold (Brock Peters) is seen cussing out and threatening a white ticket agent who he holds guilty of prejudice. Arnold and his wife Joan (Ruby Dee) are faced with true racism once trapped in the same car as Joe and Artie. In fact, everyone trapped in the subway car faces a moral dilemma in the face of Joe and Artie's dangerous taunts and threats.

This is all powerfully relevant material more than 50 years later. Director Peerce turns up the pressure-cooker atmosphere to the maximum. It's disturbing, visceral, and thrillingly acted. Gerald Hirschfeld ultra-stark black-and-white cinematography combines with Peerce's right-to-the-bone directorial style for something that feels almost like a documentary newsreel rather than a staged presentation.

Again, limited to a 3,000-copy run, The Incident might not be around on Blu-ray for long. This is a must-see for movie fans—the cast alone makes it unmissable, but the topical subject matter and "what would I do in this situation?" conversations it will inspire are well worth the investment. Twilight Time's Blu-ray includes audio commentary with director Larry Peerce and film historian Nick Redman plus an isolated music track. Check Screen Archives for ordering information while supplies last!

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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