Larry Peerce (director)
100 min (length)
12 August 2019 (released)
18 August 2019
This award-winning taut thriller from 1967 sees Martin Sheen in his debut role while it presented Tony Musante with a ‘Best Actor’ award. Both Sheen and Musante play thugs who, on a late Sunday night in New York City, terrorize various passengers on a subway train. The result is a gritty portrayal of the city’s seedier side and sports a fine ensemble cast including Donna Mills and Beau Bridges.
It’s a late night in the Bronx and ne’er-do-well punks Artie Connors (Martin Sheen) and Joe Ferrone (Tony Musante) – intoxicated by booze – are out for fun though their idea if fun is causing trouble. At first they intimidate a pool hall owner when he announces the establishment is about to close before descending on the streets where they continue with their game of intimidation (of which Ferrone seems to be a master). Next, they harass a couple passing by before they lurk in a dark corner waiting for their next victim. The unfortunate man happens to be an elderly man. Despite his pleas that he is a family man and has only 8 $-Dollars on him the thugs beat him unconscious and take the money.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the town, we witness Bill Wilks (Ed McMahon) and his wife Helen (Diana Van der Vlis) quarrelling over the fact that it’s 2am and she wants to take a cab back to Queens, not least because their young daughter is asleep in dad’s arms. However, Bill accuses his wife of throwing money away they don’t have and insists they board a subway train instead. As they enter the last carriage the only other passenger is a vagabond sleeping off his drunken stupor. Over the course of the journey more passengers board the carriage. They include attractive blonde Alice Keenan (Donna Mills) who gets pestered by her predatory boyfriend Tony Goya (Victor Arnold) for behaving ‘too virginal’ – shame she doesn’t have the guts to kick him in the balls and tell him to to f*** himself! Next arrivals are elderly Jewish couple Bertha and Sam Beckerman (Thelma Ritter and Jack Gilford) who quarrel over the fact that their son earns lots of money but doesn’t help out Sam who seems in financial trouble – prompting him to argue that the younger generation shows no helping hand towards the older one.
Two young soldiers – Phillip Carmatti (Robert Bannard) and Felix Teflinger (Beau Bridges) board as well – the latter has his arm in a sling. They are joined by fellow passengers Muriel Purvis (Jan Sterling) and her hubby Harry (Mike Kellin). Through flashback scenes we see the pair at a swank cocktail party and it becomes clear that Muriel feels nothing but contempt for her wimp of a husband, not least because he has little ambition and earns less than his colleagues. In another flashback scene we encounter a young gay man named Kenneth Otis (Robert Fields) who’s out on the prowl unsuccessfully. Nervous and anxious he freshens up in the toilet where he encounters elderly man Douglas McVann (Gary Merrill), a recovering alcoholic. Otis’ attempts to befriend the man end in humiliation and ridicule – worsened by the fact that both men end up entering the same carriage. Last but not least we have Afro-American couple Joan and Arnold Robinson (Ruby Dee and Brock Peters). While she is a gentle and patient soul who is convinced that as far as black people are concerned things will gradually change for the better, her hubby Arnold is a bigot who simply hates every single white person on the planet. With this motley crew thrown together in one carriage it can only mean disaster when – several stops later – Connors and Ferrone also board the train…
What follows is an exercise in psychopathic provocation and degradation as the two thugs take great pleasure in tormenting each and every passenger, with no one allowed to leave. What’s more interesting perhaps is how the individuals react to the thugs, with most passengers too frightened to stand up to their tormentors. Only Sam Beckerman and Muriel Purivs are not intimidated, while bigmouth Tony Goya shows what a coward he really is when Ferrone sexually harasses Alice Keenan and he simply watches on. Told ya she should have dumped that Tony fella at the subway station! Both Connors and Ferrone act as if they don’t share a single brain cell between them though the truth is that Ferrone is a master manipulator who takes great pleasure in bringing out the worst in people… but also the best as soldier Felix Teflingers, despite his injured arm, finally confronts the two punks during the tense finale.
The film is all the more interesting as the NYC transit authority denied permission to film but the filmmakers filmed regardless, with cinematographer G. Hirschfeld and his son using a camera hidden in a cardboard box while riding the subway, shooting the moving background.
THE INCIDENT is available in Dual Format edition with selected Bonus Features.