Larry Peerce's horrifying, suspenseful 1967 film The Incident shouldn't be here. Its first near-death experience happened during filming, when the independent production (about halfway through its shooting schedule) ran out of money; it was subsequently rescued by 20th Century Fox, who permitted the low-budget film to continue with little interference. The second near-death experience was its theatrical run, when a negative review by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther led to a post-awards season release date and very little promotion (it did well enough overseas, apparently).
Two near-death experiences is usually enough to bury any film -- and since the last Region 1 home video release of The Incident was a 1990 laserdisc, it's likely that only the most seasoned movie buffs heave heard of it. That's a real shame, too: armed with a strong ensemble cast (some of whom were making their big-screen debuts) and a committed crew, this cleverly-paced film delivers fierce performances, loads of suspense, and a potent ending that somehow manages to diffuse all those wildly over-the-top events leading up to it. Our story is divided into a multitude of perspectives: we're first introduced to tough guys Joe Ferrone (Tony Musante) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen) after they bad-mouth a pool hall owner, harass a few passers-by, and beat an old man to death for eight measly dollars.
Soon enough, we switch gears to follow a handful of diverse couples including Bill and Helen Wilks (Ed McMahon and Diana Van der Vlis), teenager Alice Keenan (Donna Mills) and domineering Tony Goya (Victor Arnold), elderly Bertha and Sam Beckerman (Thelma Ritter and Jack Gilford), two soldiers (Robert Bannard and Beau Bridges), a racist black man and his wife (Brock Peters and Ruby Dee), recovering alcoholic Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill), middle-aged couple Muriel and Harry Purvis (Jan Sterling and Mike Kellin), and timid homosexual Kenneth Otis (Robert Fields), each drifting through different sections of New York City at the same ungodly hour. Their only other shared link is that every one of them, murderers included, will eventually board the same subway car for the longest ride of their lives.
Aside from its mostly realistic performances, The Incident's most obvious strength is the outstanding structure: a fuse is lit early by showing Joe and Artie's complete disregard for human life, keeping us on edge before methodically introducing everyone who will eventually cross their path (according to Peerce, it was suggested by a producer). Shot almost entirely in sequence, The Incident was filmed on a tight budget and used a set for the subway car scenes -- apparently, the Transit Authority didn't feel it was a flattering portrayal of the NYC experience -- to create a truly memorable atmosphere. It doesn't let up on the gas, either: the second half is wall-to-wall terror as Joe and Artie torment the passengers until one of them finally has enough. Yet The Incident almost capsizes completely for stretching this 45-minute sequence to its absolute limit: made in the wake of Kitty Genovese's murder ("see no evil, hear no evil"), its entirely cynical suggestion that a literal carload of passengers would timidly accept such a fate almost borders on laughable.
This obstacle may be a deal-breaker for certain viewers: if you're the problem-solving type who shouts at horror movie characters for botched decisions, The Incident may prove to be a wholly frustrating experience. At the very least, it's a tough watch. But the film's unforgettable atmosphere, strong ensemble cast, and overlooked status make it worth a look, which is all the more reason why Twilight Time's new Blu-ray represents a welcome second (third?) life for The Incident. Featuring a solid A/V presentation and a new audio commentary with Larry Peerce -- who remembers a surprising amount of great info after five decades -- it's a solid pick for those who like brutal thrillers off the beaten path.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this crisp 1080p transfer -- sourced from a brand new 4K scan of the film and, as far as I know, exclusive to this release -- is an outstanding effort overall, especially given that The Incident's last Region 1 home video release was on laserdisc back in 1990. Image detail and textures are quite impressive with strong black levels, good contrast, and no obvious signs of dirt and debris along the way; the subject matter might be ugly, but this is an exceedingly clean picture. Digital imperfections, including compression artifacts and excessive noise reduction, are virtually absent from start to finish. With that said, it's worth noting that the film's second half looks substantially more refined and consistent than the first: once the locale shifts from dark city streets to a well-lit car (which again, was actually a studio set), things improve greatly. Either way, this is top-tier work that likely represents The Incident's very best appearance since its theatrical run; for that alone, long-time fans should be absolutely thrilled.
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The main option (aside from an Isolated Music Track, presented in lossless 2.0) is a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix that preserves the film's one-channel roots. This is a strong effort that features crisp dialogue and occasional moments of slight depth, while background effects and rare music cues don't fight for attention. Volume levels and dynamic range are steady from start to finish; though it's obviously less full and rich in comparison to modern thrillers, The Incident sounds a decade or so younger than its age implies. Optional English SDH subtitles are included during the main feature.
Twilight Time's standard interface is clean, simple, and easy to navigate; separate options are available for audio/subtitle setup, chapter selection, and bonus features. This one-disc release is packaged in a clear keepcase with poster-themed artwork and a Booklet containing production stills, technical specs, and an insightful essay by Julie Kirgo.
The main attraction is a new Audio Commentary with director Larry Peerce and film historian Nick Redman; as expected, it's a thoughtful, engaging, and informative track that's long overdue. Topics of discussion include financial woes behind the scenes (which, again, halted production partway through filming), shooting completely in sequence, assembling the cast, the sharp increase of adult material in films during the late 1960s, dealing with the NYC Transit Authority, the director's early career experience with live and local television, the film's limited score and soundtrack, working without studio interference, getting buried by Bosley Crowther, the ridiculous end credit song, and much more. It's a very candid and informative commentary overall -- Peerce remembers a lot of great stories vividly and Redman does a fine job keeping him on track. Also included is The Incident's Theatrical Trailer which, unlike the main feature, appears to be in dismal condition; I'm not sure what the source material is, but it's loaded with frame judders and motion blur.
There's no doubt that Larry Peerce's largely forgotten The Incident deserves a second life on home video after 50 years of maintaining a low profile. Featuring plenty of outstanding performances from its ensemble cast -- some of whom were making their big-screen debuts here -- and a terrific pace that divides this suspenseful film neatly in half, it's a true hidden gem that's sure to please the right audience. But this is undoubtedly more of a film to admire than actually enjoy: the subject matter and overall atmosphere is heavy, dark, and frustrating at times, and I fear that modern audiences may not be willing to ride along with its admittedly far-fetched portrayal of "two against many". Thankfully, those who enjoy its strengths will be pleased with Twilight Time's new Blu-ray: featuring a strong A/V presentation (sourced from a recent 4k master) and an audio commentary with the director, there's enough here to make it worth a buy for established fans and curious newcomers alike...but I wouldn't blame anyone for being cautious. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.