Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Incident (1967) New York Subway Noir

A triumvirate of native New Yorkers, director Larry Peerce (Goodbye, Columbus (1969)), veteran Noir cinematographer, Gerald Hirschfeld ('C'-Man (1949), Guilty Bystander (1950), Fail-Safe (1964) and writer Nicholas E. Baehr, all add a big city garnish of authenticity and atmospherics to this dark tale of events going out of control on a late night Bronx IRT Jerome Avenue el train heading downtown towards Manhattan. (Reports have been posted though, that most of the actual outdoor scenes of the train (below) were filmed on and around the Bronx section of the IRT Third Avenue Line which was demolished in 1973. I haven't been able to confirm this.)

Jerome Ave. Line
Baehr adapted The Incident from his earlier teleplay, which had been previously adapted as TV movie Ride With Terror (1963) which starred Vincent Gardenia, Gene Hackman and coincidentally Tony Musante who reprises his role of Joe Ferrone in The Incident. It would be interesting to someday make a side by side comparison.

The Incident is a true ensemble Noir much in the vein of Deadline at Dawn (1946) His Kind of Woman (1951), and The Girl in Black Stockings (1957).

The film stars Robert Bannard, Beau Bridges (Force of Evil (1948)), Tony Musante (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Detective (1968)), Martin Sheen (The Naked City, TV (1962), Ed McMahon, Donna Mills (Play Misty for Me (1971)), Brock Peters (The Pawnbroker (1964)), Jack Gilford (Mister Buddwing (1966)) Victor Arnold (Shaft (1971), The Seven Ups (1973)), Mike Kellin (The Naked City, TV (1959-1963)), Robert Fields (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)) Diana Van der Vlis (The Girl in Black Stockings (1957)) , and Henry Proach.

Four Classic Noir actors provide some very effective cinematic memory to The Incident, Ruby Dee (No Way Out (1950), The Tall Target (1951), Gary Merrill (Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), A Blueprint for Murder (1953), Night Without Sleep (1952), Witness to Murder (1954), Thelma Ritter, (Call Northside 777 (1948), Pickup on South Street (1953), Rear Window (1954)), and Jan Sterling (Caged (1950), Union Station (1950), Appointment with Danger (1951), Ace in the Hole (1951), Split Second (1953), and The Harder They Fall (1956).

The Story:

It's the 60s, dig, it's The Bronx. Late Sunday night early Monday morning. Two blitzed deadbeats, one Joe Ferrone, and one Artie Connors are up to no good. Ferrone (Musante) has a sport jacket with his shirt unbuttoned down to his navel, wears a medallion, carries a blade, and has pointy sideburns, a real wannabe Italian stallion. Connors (Sheen) is threading it mod wears a jacket with a turtleneck. These sick puppies are gassed and really amped to make a bad scene.

Joe Ferrone (Musante) at Academy Pool Hall
Academy Pool Hall

170th Street

Joe and Artie under the  distinctive Westinghouse Whiteways streetlights
Artie (Sheen) Joe (Musante)
They close down the ten table Academy Pool Hall. Then, down on 170th Street looking for kicks, they begin to check door handles for unlocked cars. These two punks next taunt a couple on the sidewalk and then decide to mug the first cat that comes by.

waiting for a mark
They hide in a basement stairwell. When a lone square comes down the concrete stroll they dart out pull him into the cellar. Mugging him for all the bread he's got, a measly eight bucks. They then beat the shit out of him for fun, nice guys. Not ready to call it a night these two assholes decide to book downtown to Times Square. They head to the elevated station just down the block at Jerome Avenue.

In flashback we see the Wilks', Bill (McMahon) and Helen (Van der Vlis). Bill is shlepping their sleeping daughter home from a birthday party. He's a tight wad who won't spring for a cab back to Queens. He ops for the el and while waiting for the train gets into an argument with Helen about not wanting more kids cause they're too expensive. A downtown number 4 train pulls in. They go to get on the last car. One of it's three sliding doors is out of order. The Wilks' have to step around a sleeping drunk (Proach) who is crashed out on the rattan covered bench seat by the working door .

The Wilks's Bill (McMahon) and Helen (Van der Vlis)

sleeping derelict 
Tony Goya (Arnold) has "pantalones calientes" for Alice Keenan (Mills). Tony is grease-ball swarthy, and he can't keep his hands to himself. Alice is cherry, blond, all show and no go. Alice wears a short pleated mini skirt that swooshes tantalizingly from side to side as she walks showing lots of creamy white thigh. Horny Tony's got his eyes on the prize, Alice's golden gate.

Alice is driving Tony plumb loco, they are continually swapping spit, but Alice is constantly applying the brakes. She won't go all the way, and "pobrecito" Tony has a serious case of blue balls. He tells her he's had it, she tells him next time, maybe. He says he'll try and get some wheels, a car's got a back seat you know he's thinking.

They get on the train and into the same car as the Wilks family at Bedford Park Boulevard Station, and begin to mess around. It's not easy to get laid in New York City when you are young and broke.

Tony (Arnold) and Alice (Mills)

a tease
next time...

young lust

Sam Beckerman (Guilford) is a bitter man he constantly kvetches to his wife Bertha that his own son won't give him five hundred bucks to fix his teeth, so he "can eat like a human being," but he'll blow that much at the track. Bertha (Ritter) is ambivalent and looking very tired of it all. They get on the train at Kingsbridge Road.

Bertha (Ritter) Sam (Guilford)
Army buddies Pfc. Phillip Carmatti (Bannard) and Pfc. Felix Teflinger (Bridges) have just finished a nice family dinner at the Carmatti's apartment. They head out the door and to the el station. Phillip is going to see his wounded pal Felix off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. Felix is heading home first to St. Louis, then South from there. They get on the train at Fordam Road in the last car with the Wilks, Tony, Alice, Sam and Bertha.

Phillip (Bannard) and Felix (Bridges)
El Station

Harry (Kellin) and Muriel (Sterling) Purvis' marriage is going Skidsville. They were at a high rise cocktail party with their old friends, all of whom have been way more successful than they are. Harry is a nerdy uptight prim and proper history teacher who is happy with his lot in life. He's wearing a pocket protector, black rim glasses, carries a briefcase and an umbrella. He's a poster boy for the geek squad. Muriel is dressed all in black as if she went to a funeral. Her locks are pinned up, she wears a hair net and pearls. She is wound a little bit too tight with resentment. She is sexually frustrated, emotional exhausted, and envious of their affluent friends. She resents her priggish husband. They get on the train with the rest at Burnside Avenue.

Harry Purvis (Kellin) with fedora, pocket protector,umbrella and briefcase watching Muriel pace back and forth like a cat in heat

Douglas McCann (Merrill) is a recovering booze hound who is haunted by the loss of his job, his family his future. He drifts down the sidewalk towards the neon lights of a bar like a storm tossed ship to a lighthouse. He falls off the wagon at a dive on 176th Street.

Kenneth Otis (Fields) is a twink a closet gay who's looking for a real good buddy. He's clueless about how to go about it. He's is in the same bar with McCann. In the men's room Kenneth tries to get chummy with Doug and is ignored. Doug finishes his drink and heads up the stairway to the platform pausing at the stations coin booth area to drop a dime on an old boss about an upcoming interview. While Doug is on the phone Kenneth has also come up the stairs and gets into Doug's space standing right behind him like a love sick puppy. Doug tells him to get lost. They both go up the the platform and Kenny follows Doug into the same car with the rest of our cast of characters.

Doug (Garry Merrill) portrait in bar neon
Men's room meeting

Love sick puppy
At Mt. Eden Station an African-American couple Arnold (Peters) and Joan (Dee) Robinson buy tokens for the train. An innocent transaction with the change clerk goes sour and Arnold goes ballistic.  Arnold is a wannabe black militant who gets exaggeratedly offended at the slightest provocation railing against the man in general. Joan is slightly exasperated at his self righteous misbegotten belligerence.

Arnold (Peters) Joan (Dee)

Joan (Dee) suffers in silence
the detached calm before the storm
At the point in time when the train arrives at the next station, 170th Street, the flashback ends and real time begins as Joe Ferrone and Artie Connors board the last car.

Now if you are not a native New Yorker this fact of big city survival may not be apparent. The one thing you do not do, and you were taught this back in the day not only by family and friends but also learn it day in and day out by basic instinct, is to NOT make eye contact with strangers, and especially with crazy strangers, either on the street, on the bus, on the subway. That's just asking for trouble, and when trouble happens you stay out of it. Even a good deed can turn deadly.

Joe and Artie burst into the car at 170th Street, Artie is laughing, riding piggy back on Joe. Everyone of course looks but immediately everyone instinctively ignores. They are just two lit up rowdies out for a good time. Joe and Artie spin around a pole cackling, then run up and down the car. Joe plops down in an empty seat and swigs from his pint bottle. Artie stands near the bum.

Their first victim is the bum. Artie tries to give him a hot foot sticking a match between the sole and top leather of his shoe. He lights the match and watches with gleeful anticipation. It burns down. The bum is in La La Land, there is no reaction. Artie redoubles his efforts putting unlit matches between the derelicts lips. Doug McCann, perhaps seeing the drunken bum as his personal Ghost of Christmas Future, tells Artie to knock it off. He's the first of the passengers to stand up to the punks but when no one else joins in he backs off.

(Let's just pause for a moment to discuss the setup of the final act. The subway car that our characters ride has a total of eight doors. It has two manually operated doors at each end, but since this is the end car of the train the door at the tail end is locked. The manually operated door at the opposite end is broken and wont open. If it did open you could pass between cars while the train is running. So that leaves six automatic sliding doors three on the right side of the car and three on the left. Since this train is a local the doors only operate on the right side of the car. On this particular car one of those doors is broken and inoperable. When Joe and Artie effectively take the car over they use the shoe of the unconscious bum to wedge another sliding inoperable leaving only one way in and out of the car.)

In this claustrophobic environment Joe and Artie systematically degrade, terrorize and humiliate all the passengers. Joe is the sociopath, the bigger jackass and more aggressive.  Artie is Joe's sidekick more of a follower aping his moves.


racing through the car


Artie trying to set the bum on fire

Doug catching heat

tormenting the twink

busting the chops on the Beckermans

scoping out the lovers

copping more of a feel than Tony

sizing up the soldiers

Arnold having a good ol' time watching Whitey get his....

...until Joe starts pushing his buttons

Artie grabs Joan and Arnold is pissed..


and broken
Joe and Artie have their way until they go one victim to far in the claustrophobic confines of the subway car.

In an ironic bit of prescient commentary on today's current events when the cops finally get to the car they immediately try to arrest Arnold the only black man.

Tony Musante is frightening as Joe. Beau Bridges is heroic as Felix. Brock Peters is outstanding showing some great range as Arnold. Gary Merrill is great as the down and out alkie, Jan Sterling equally as the crumbling beauty facing a stagnant life. Mike Kellin is a wonderful as the dweeb.  Martin Sheen, Ruby Dee, Victor Arnold, Jack Gilford, Diana Van der Vlis, and Ed McMahon are all believable. Donna Mills is pretty much eye candy. Thelma Ritter who always seemed to play a feisty older woman here really is old and she looks tired, this was her second to last film, she died 15 months after this was released.


The Incident is the best NYC Subway based psychological thriller film out there. Music was by Charles Fox and Terry Knight. Sound by Jack C. Jacobsen. There is no current R1 or R0 video available for The Incident. Screen caps were from the R2 Simply Media. 9/10 a 10/10 with a restoration.

No comments:

Post a Comment