The Incident (1967)
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I was so happy this film was finally released on video. I have been waiting for over 30 years to see it again to see if my opinions had changed--and they hadn't.
It did to me, at least. The acting job (especially of the two leads) was phenomenal! Especially, by far, Martin Sheen.
The cinematography, the vicious personalities of the two street punks, the music, well... basically everything flat out works. Haven't we all felt like one of the passengers? Or maybe even like one of the hoodlums?
Great film. 10/10
The story of a group of individuals, threatened and intimidated by a couple of "toughs," has been told many times, in a variety of settings, depicting the victims' fright, indifference, and even occasional amusement. But this one does tells it about as well as possible. The seedy setting, a New York City subway car, at night, provides a time capsule example of the word "seedy." A group like this could be equally-menaced, say, held hostage in the Presidential Suite at the Waldorf, but the dramatic effect would never be the same.
Besides the drama - viewed now, four decades later - the film evokes a nostalgic view and feel of the 60's period. Martin Sheen and Tony Musante (a young 27 and 31, respectively), are outstanding, and Sheen's role, against-type, especially so. Beau Bridges is also 26 here, as is Donna Mills, and we also see Ed McMahon and Jan Sterling in their mid-40's. A very interesting view of these personalities then, along with the number of others in this outstanding ensemble.
A real gem, and one of those frequent reminders that the best films often are found elsewhere from the high-budget, superstar epics.
as a New Yorker and a subway buff i really enjoyed the exteriors of the number 4 train although the cars early on are pre 1960 and later on the exteriors are the post 1964 cars...but this is a continuity error that someone like myself would look for.
Along with a very young Martin Sheen...look for Donna Mills as a late teenage virgin..the veteran Great THELMA RITTER and a surprise appearance in a dramatic role by Johnny Carson's sidekick ED MCMAHON
I turned this on late on night about ten years ago, and it sent a fear through me like no other I've seen. That fear was, "Would I be too afraid to stand up and fight?"
I turned on the film for the first time when the guys were just about to get on the train. That was a perfect beginning for me. Later, I saw it again, and saw all the other stuff about how bad they were. Watching it the first time was a better experience; if you start with the train, you live the experience like you would in real life -- no knowledge of anybody's character until that character acts.
Just three years earlier, in 1964, a terrible crime occurred in Forest Hills, Queens that made headlines world-wide. A barmaid named Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed on the street while dozens of neighbors in surrounding apartment buildings listened to her screams. During the attack, apparently one person yelled from a window and the attacker backed off for a few moments. But when no further interference took place, the attacker returned and stabbed Miss Genovese to death.
None of the neighbors even called the police. They all later said, when interviewed, "I didn't want to get involved." That sentiment reflected the majority of New Yorkers in that era of rampant street crime: mind your own business, don't get involved.
The passivity of the passengers in The Incident was perfectly in line with the sensibilities of the time, and the fact that it took a visitor from Oklahoma (Beau Bridges) to step up to the plate, was also very apt.
All that being said, this movie is extremely powerful. The first time I ever saw it, on television, I was shaking for hours.
Two brutal and vicious thugs Joe Ferrone & Arti Connors, Tony Musante & Martin Sheen, after brutally murdering a man, Ben Levi,coming home from work at night get on a New York City subway train and terrorize all the passengers on it. Like in most New York City movies the train contains every nationality age and social group and even sexual preference on it and Joe & Arti treat them all just about equally.
What was very phony about the movie is that the subway car had something like a dozen passengers on it and nobody or no group of the passengers tried at attack and subdue the two thugs that until the very end. The thugs didn't even show or pull out any weapons and when they did the only weapon they had was a switchblade knife. Even more so they not only brutalized everyone on the subway car they nauseatingly humiliated all the women who were on the train in full sight of their husbands or boyfriends! with the men doing absolutely nothing to help them! I couldn't help wondering what the wives and girlfriends of these wimps did after this hell was over did they still stay with them? Another thing that was a little bit off was that both Joe & Arti went from person or couple to couple abusing and humiliating each one as it they were working on an assembly line.
The two jumped on a poor gay man Ken, Robert Fields, and brutalized him so badly that he looked like he lost his mind and was left in a catatonic state with nobody on the train lifting as much as a finger to help the poor man. There was also a black couple Arnold and Joan Robinson,Brock Peters and Ruby Dee, who were about to leave the train on their stop at 125th street in Harlem but Arnold insisted that his wife stay with him on the train so he can see the "show", how stupid can one get? Being the only two blacks on the train Arnold was especially singled out by the two white thugs for special treatment. The big strapping black militant was left whimpering and crying like a baby in front of his wife Joan and a train full of whites whom Arnold showed earlier in the movie nothing but hatred contempt and scorn for.
The outrages continued until Felix, Beau Bridges, A GI on leave with a broken arm in the big city just couldn't take it any more when Joe started molesting Mr. & Mrs. Wilks, Ed McMahon & Diana Vander Vilis, young daughter. Felix finally took the law into his own hands by smashing Joe's face in with his plaster cast that he had on his broken arm, that it took a dentist to pull all of Joe's teeth out of it. Felix then cornered and kicked Arti so hard between his legs that if he were a football he would have traveled at least fifty yards for a field goal with Felix getting a knife right in his gut, and as usual in this movie, with nobody coming to his aid until it was too late or better yet until the police finally came to the "rescue".
Seventeen years later after the movie "The Incident" was released on the early afternoon of December 22, 1984 another "Incident" happened on the Subway in New York City that was like the movie but with a much better ending. Bernie Goetz was on a crowded #2 subway train minding his own business when he was confronted by four muggers wanting his wallet. In him knowing what he was in for Bernie then pulled something out of his jacket pocket but it wasn't a Christmas gift and ended up putting the four would-be subway Christmas shoppers out of action for a long long time. I always thought and suspected that Bernie saw the movie "The Incident" and knew what just to expect on the NYC subway and also made sure that he would be ready for it when it came.
That's the oft-chronicled syndrome of 'no safety in a crowd' . Going to the defense of a stranger and thereby inviting the violence unto oneself requires more than a little courage. This was possibly even more true in the sixties (the setting of this film) when our society was actually more civilized than it is now (regarding the violence to which people were unaccustomed) and the phenomenon of 'apathy' was noted by sociologists with alarming regularity
Now, I can't really see the scenario of this movie occurring in real-life anymore. But in the mid-sixties it was all too authentic. Even punks were more creative in their activities back then. Today's video-drenched, learning-disabled, fast-shooting creepoids are too lazy, dumb and unmotivated to embark on such imaginative torments as the antagonists here. I actually knew a few guys like these two back in the sixties. The type that entertained and empowered themselves through the humiliation of others. Without the multi-channel cable universe in place back then they were too often found in inner-city streets
As to the movie itself I just have to say that when one stays with you for the rest of your life it's pretty easy to categorize it as great. Much has been written already about the characters in this film so I'll not bother to add much except to say that the part played by Beau Bridges is the part to which I most identify. Not because of his heroism, because of the way he becomes sick to his stomach at his own cowardice. Had Tony Musante not turned his attention to the frightened Ed McMahon and his sleeping daughter the drama may well have had a non-ending. I felt the self-loathing that Bridges felt also and I think it's at that point that I too would have finally reacted. I hope so
They should bury a copy of this movie in a time capsule. It captures a moment in time of American inner-city culture that may be gone now, but you never know. History has a tendency to re-cycle
This is a great movie and STILL unknown to this day. It is very unpleasant to watch and the realism may be too much for some people. Also the film is, sadly, still topical (although NY subways are nowhere near this bad nowadays). Each character is attacked (verbally and physically) during the course of the film--the attacks on the black couple and the gay man are so extreme and violent they're virtually unwatchable. All the acting is excellent which makes this film very hard to shake off. Also it's very interesting to see Ed McMahon doing drama and this is the film debut of Sheen and Mills. Shot in b&w which actually helps. A must see...just brace yourself.
I also predicted that once Joe started messing with the child that is when someone would decide to do something about him. Seeing children in danger tend to trigger unexpected feelings in people, feelings they may not have known they had. The only other person free from hangups and shame was the bum. I like how the director highlighted this at the end by showing that even after all that has transpired he still hasn't woken up, almost like he ignored the whole affair because it had nothing to do with him. And of course at the end everyone walks off without a word because their all ashamed. When you have been exposed bare like that you go run and hide not stand up and make friends with folks. I really didn't get the sense that the director wanted to me think a certain way after seeing the movie. He was simply pointing out some disturbing aspects of human psychology. There really was no "moral to the story". At least not an obvious one. Even Felix, the "hero" pays a price for his actions. If this was a morality tale, I think the director would have tried to make it seem that a particular action would have been the best action to take. I didn't see that.
Hoods Tony Musante and Martin Sheen terrorize a group of late night passengers on a NYC train. Everyone's true feelings and frustrations tear to the forefront as the hoodlums humiliate one person after another. There's sexy Donna Mills, angry Brock Peters and his silent wife Ruby Dee, henpecked Ed McMahon, middle-aged shrike Jan Sterling and her milquetoast husband Mike Kellin. Beau Bridges plays a young soldier who breaks from the pack and defends himself. Gary Merrill is startling...and startlingly cast as a repressed homosexual.
Musante and Sheen are dynamite...scary, tough and cowardly all at once. Musante may not have had a sustained film career, but he's great here. Sterling and Kellin make a wild couple, with Kellin giving the film's best performance. Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter are in it too. Extremely well directed by Larry Peerce.
How come I never heard of this movie before? Why isn't this a cult classic? You might say it's the "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" of the 60's, with all the as-yet undiscovered talent.
The movie is a bit heavy handed, though, in its morality lesson. It's as if the screenwriter had a framed copy of the German missive on the Nazi takeover above his desk: "First they came for the Jews, but I didn't speak out because I was not a Jew, then they came for the communists, but I didn't speak out because....." I simply can't believe that so many people could be so cowardly. The mod guy who freezes up while a bully strokes his girlfriend's hair is too much. And the fact that the bullies essentially insult everyone on the car in turn while everyone looks away doesn't wash either. You know you're next, so why not try to put a stop to it now? The black guy who was so eager to punch a white could have pummeled them both as soon as they let his wife/hostage go. Where did all his anger go? And the gay guy who tried to get off meekly returned when the weaker of the two bullies merely said, "go to your room". He was inches from freedom, and was much larger than Martin Sheen's character.
This movie is worth seeing for its cast alone. It's fun to see such a young Beau Bridges, and to see TV's Ed McMahon in a serious role. Virtually every cast member was known to me, if only as a familiar face from countless other movies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Oh, and I burst out laughing at a scene which probably was originally intended to be very poignant and thought provoking. Blame my recent addiction to Dave Chapelle's comedy. When the police finally come and see the carnage, they immediately try to cuff the black guy, without asking any questions.
With its flaws noted, I recommend this movie as a great time capsule of the 60s, and a study of how cowardice can lead to worse and worse situations.
Simply put, this is a film that people who claim to love the "art of cinema" unfortunately have to profess a liking for. Its heavy-handed manner of addressing moral issues leaves me wondering where the appreciation of subtlety and symbolism is amongst those that profess to love film of this oppressive nature.
When this movie came out, New York City was steadily regressing downward on a Guggenheimish circular stairway towards Dante's 9th circle, and we have to suppose that Sheen and Musante are its most evil spirits. The problem may be that the director thinks he's Virgil.
The usual, and most popular, structure for a small-scale play like this is to introduce the varied characters in such a way that we get to know them and see them as humans, some nasty, some funny, and then have them go through some sort of terrible trial until they cohere as a group. Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" is a good example. That structure isn't used here.
There are two main problems. One is the script, the other is the direction.
The script doesn't start out in a lighthearted way. It starts off nasty. Everybody is already arguing about something with the other person in their pair. (The only guy who is not with someone else is an unconscious drunk.) Ed McMahon and his wife argue about pennies and about being out so late at night. Mickey Kellin and his wife fight too -- she's wants to climb the status ladder and looks down on her impotent history-teaching husband who wears thick glasses and carries an umbrella. A young Donna Mills and her boyfriend argue about whether she should "save it" or not. (Good old 1967.) Two young soldiers are friends but one betrays the other. A pathetic gay guy hits on ex-alcoholic Gary Merrill who's trying to stay off the sauce. (Getting the picture?) Brock Peters is fiercely anti-white despite his wife, Ruby Dee's pleas that he ease up. Jack Gilford complains to his wife, Thelma Ritter, that their son is a miserable ingrate. Now, not only do all of them except the two soldiers fight with each other, but they fight bitterly. They really MEAN it. Nobody cracks a joke. Nobody phrases their insults gracefully or with any wit. This is down-home, below-the-belt fighting, and it robs the movie of much of its impact. When you start off over the top, where do you have left to go except into utter lunacy.
Finally, the end itself is a cop-out, as they used to say in 1967. When the injured soldier pulls a Marshall Kane and beats the bad guys to a pulp nobody helps him, not even his soldier friend. In a way this is too bad because the bad guys were the only ones truly enjoying themselves. They genuinely seem to like one another. Yet, when the soldier is beating the first one up, the second stands at the other end of the car watching passively, although they've always coooperated in their earlier mechanical humiliation of the passengers. And afterward, everyone gets up and leaves the train without a word to one another. I guess it seemed like a good idea to make a movie about urban apathy at the time, but this isn't apathy, it's cowardice. The gigantic, intimidating, ferocious, monumental, pharonic figure of Brock Peters alone could take on these two obnoxious punks at once and rip each of them a new orifice.
The director, Peerce, helps not at all. No one in the movie gives a decent performance -- not that it would have been easy overcoming the dialogue. There's no beauty whatever in the direction. Everybody is lousy. It's intense from the beginning, overwhelming. Characters for whom we should feel at least a little sympathy are made to shove their shouting faces into a wide-angle lens and look hateful. (The director shouldn't have allowed that overplaying.) Even the heroic wounded soldier is turned into a complete dummy from Oklahoma -- "They're just havin' a little fun." If I had to look at another closeup of Tony Musante's ugly leering face I'd want to punch it myself. It's all so ugly. And it needn't have been, because we don't need the director hitting us over the head with all the Big Moral Lessons. We could pick them up ourselves.
I had a little difficulty with the casting too. This is an echt-New York movie, but a lot of supposed New Yorkers didn't look or sound like New Yorkers, but rather like actors.
If you want to see an unusually good example of the kind of movie this MIGHT have been, had it been competently written and directed and acted, rent the original (1959) version of "Twelve Angry Men."