The Incident (1967 film)
|Directed by||Larry Peerce|
|Produced by||Edgar J. Scherick|
|Screenplay by||Nicholas E. Baehr|
|Music by||Charles Fox
|Edited by||Armond Lebowitz|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|November 5, 1967|
The Incident is a 1967 American film written by Nicholas E. Baehr (based on his teleplay Ride with Terror, which had been previously adapted as a 1963 television film), directed by Larry Peerce and starring Beau Bridges, Tony Musante, Brock Peters and Martin Sheen in his first film role. It tells the story of two young hoodlums who, after mugging a man at knifepoint, board a New York City subway train and terrorize the passengers.
The film was made for a budget of $1,050,000.
It is Monday morning in the Bronx; two deadbeat punks: Joe Ferrante (Tony Musante) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen) are causing trouble. After giving a hard time to a pool hall owner for closing early interrupting their game, then briefly harassing a passing couple on the street, then finally mugging an old man for his eight dollars and beating him into unconsciousness, they board the last car of a New York City Subway train and psychologically terrorize the passengers who cannot move to another carriage (it would later be shown that the door at the other end of the car is stuck closed).
As they make their way to the nearby elevated station No. 4 IRT Jerome Avenue Line 170th Street station, we see in flashback the passengers begin to board, starting at the downtown side (toward Manhattan) of the Bronx Mosholu Parkway where Bill Wilks (Ed McMahon) and his wife, Helen (Diana Van der Vlis), with a child boarding the train at approximately 2:15 AM after Bill refuses to take a cab home in Flushing, Queens due to cost. The other passengers board each station sequentially between Mosholu Parkway stop and 170th street: At Bedford Park Boulevard teenage virgin Alice Keenan (Donna Mills) and her sexually pushy date Tony Goya (Victor Arnold); at Kingsbridge Road an elderly Jewish couple, Sam and Bertha Beckerman (Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter). Sam was the second person to really stand up to their tormentors. They tried to get off at the 86th street stop but were prevented by the thugs; at Fordam Road, two soldiers, Pfc. Phillip Carmatti (Robert Bannard) and Pfc. Felix Teflinger (Beau Bridges), the latter of whom has a broken arm; at Burnside Ave., a middle-aged wife, Muriel Purvis (Jan Sterling), who resents her mousey husband, Harry (Mike Kellin), because he is a teacher who earns less than many of their friends; at the 176th St. station, a recovering alcoholic Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill), who would be the first to attempt to stand up to the punks; Kenneth Otis (Robert Fields), a gay man who earlier made an unsuccessful attempt at befriending McCann and got on at the same station McCann did; and finally an African-American couple who boarded at the Mt. Eden Ave. stop, Arnold and Joan Robinson (Brock Peters and Ruby Dee). They had a chance to get off the train at their stop the 125th Street station at Joan's urging but Arnold, being of a militant bent actually enjoyed the spectacle of white people tormenting each other, and made them stay; and the punk's first victim, an asleep/unconscious derelict (Henry Proach) who was on the train always and remains totally oblivious to everything around him during the entire incident, including when the thugs seemed to be trying to set fire to him.
Joe is the more aggressive and sociopathic of the two punks, humiliating and degrading the passengers one by one. Artie is passive, docile, and more of a follower.
After Joe terrorizes all of the adult train passengers, he is finally challenged when he turns his attention to a young child. Joe gets on his knees and tries to convince the child’s parents to allow him to speak to her directly. The mother and father are frantic and afraid. Joe tries to touch the child. The father holds his child close to his chest in a protective grip while trying to hide her from Joe’s sight. Joe is persistent, causing the desperate parents to keep slapping Joe’s hands away as he tries to touch the child.
Only then does Pfc. Teflinger engage and directly challenge Joe with “Stop! Or I’ll put you down!”. This is when Joe pulls out his switchblade knife. Teflinger engages the punk in hand-to-hand combat. Despite his broken arm and a stab wound from Joe's knife, Teflinger manages to overpower Joe, mostly using his cast to beat the man into submission; subsequently, Artie drops his tough-guy facade and cowers when Joe is disarmed and overpowered.
The film ends at the 42nd street Grand Central station with the police finally entering the train and, without asking any questions and in reflection of the racial climate of the time, start to arrest the only black man in the car, Arnold who was just standing several feet away from the prone Joe, staring at him. Passengers cry out, “That’s not the guy!” so the cops instead help the almost dead Artie off the floor and out, while a train conductor picks up and helps the other hoodlum off the train.
No one bothers to help the wounded heroic Teflinger, except for his scared Army buddy Phillip whose only contribution was to finally yell out for the police which brought them in the first place. Phillip did nothing until it was over when Phillip goes over to an injured Felix. Felix, weakly but disgustedly asked "Where were you buddy?" As Phillip helps him off the train Felix looks at the rest of the passengers who do not even acknowledge any gratitude in subduing the tormentors at the risk of his life.
The passengers, still frozen in their seats, are stunned, their personal views of themselves and their companions, if they had any, altered. Only when the sleeping drunk sprawled over the seats rolls over and falls to the floor, do passengers finally awake and slowly exit the train by stepping over the drunk’s unconscious body with Helen Wilks being the last off.
The New York City Transit Authority denied permission to film on its property, including background shots, but the filmmakers shot them anyway. Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld and an assistant rode the subway with a hidden camera, and when its sound was noticed, they stopped and came back later to finish the job. Hirschfeld said in an interview that he filmed in black and white in order to get "the most realistic style of photography possible"; test shots were taken in muted color but they were deemed a distraction from the desired "somber" effect.
All scenes in the subway car were filmed in a studio mockup of IRT World's Fair Lo-V #5674. The producers contacted St. Louis Car Co. for original blueprints of the car and reproduced it. Lights were mounted along the car exterior and illuminated sequentially to simulate a speed of 30 mph. Subway footage was filmed by concealing the cameras inside bags. Police became suspicious when they heard whirring sounds inside the bags.
The outdoor scenes of the train were filmed on and around the Bronx section of the IRT Third Avenue Line, which was demolished in 1973. The actual train trip takes longer in the film than in real life.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p255
- Crowther, Bosley (November 6, 1967). "The Incident (1967) Screen: 'The Incident' on View at Two Theaters:Tale of Subway Terror Is Taken From TV". The New York Times.