(US - 1967)
Directed by Larry Peerce. Written by Nicholas E. Baehr. Cast: Tony Musante, Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Jack Gilford, Thelma Ritter, Ed McMahon, Diana Van der Vlis, Mike Kellin, Jan Sterling, Gary Merrill, Robert Fields, Robert Bannard, Victor Arnold, Donna Mills, Kathleen Smith, Henry Proach, Marty Meyers. (Unrated, 100 mins)
Though it has a devoted cult following, THE INCIDENT is a film that's flown under the radar for a half-century, vividly remembered by the few who saw it during its 1967-68 theatrical run and those who caught it on late-night TV well into the 1980s. After a 1989 VHS release, it's been unrepresented on home video until Twilight Time's new "Limited Edition Series" Blu-ray release (in her essay in the package's accompanying booklet, Julie Kirgo writes "Where has this extraordinary movie been all our lives?"). Shot in black & white at a time when it was used very sparingly aside from the occasional IN COLD BLOOD, THE INCIDENT has been restored to all of its edgy, gritty glory and is long overdue for discovery. Even now, over 50 years after its release, THE INCIDENT is an artifact from a bygone era that remains a visceral, shocking gut-punch today. Though it came just before the introduction of the MPAA rating system and is devoid of F-bombs, the language used and situations depicted in the film (including one pretty clearly alluding to a sexual assault taking place just below the frame) induce such a level of tension and unease that it's still worthy of an R rating even now. THE INCIDENT is a film that leaves you exhausted, shattered, and physically drained when the closing credits roll. It's possibly the best American film of the 1960s that nobody knows about, and it's possibly more potent today that it was then. There's certainly elements here that couldn't fly in the present without being labeled "problematic" or "triggering" and leading to numerous outraged thinkpieces, including the use of homophobic and racist slurs. This is a troubling, uncomfortable, claustrophobic, and profoundly unsettling film that stays with you long after it's over. Even revisiting it after 20+ years, scenes and dialogue remained etched in my memory and even though I knew what was coming, I could still feel my heart racing, my stomach in knots with tension, and a palpable anger brewing as a bad situation gets uglier by the minute.
Spike, but even he gets into the act, immediately figuring out that Kenneth is gay and slyly seducing him into earning his trust. "You gotta help me...this guy I'm with is real buggy," Artie deceptively confides before beating him, calling him a "rotten fag," forcing him to dance with him and Joe, and spending the rest of the film referring to him as "The Princess" and making him sit in the corner. Joe exposes tough-talking Tony as a coward by sidling up to Alice and, judging from her body language and the pained faces she's making, doing things out of frame that couldn't be explicitly shown in 1967 as Tony freezes and does nothing. And starting with a loaded "Sho 'nuff!," he then demolishes Arnold, who's only too happy to watch a train car full of "crackers" being verbally and physically assaulted ("I'm with you, Jack," he smiles at Joe), but has it thrown right back at him when Joe repeatedly calls him the N-word and insinuates that his "smell" is all over the train. Throughout all of this, no one speaks up or makes any serious attempt to deter them other than Teflinger, but even he backs off after suggesting they "settle down" and Joe grabs him by the neck.
|Martin Sheen, Larry Peerce, and Beau Bridges
at a 2017 TCM Festival screening of THE INCIDENT
|THE INCIDENT opening in Toledo, OH on 3/29/1968, paired with
the Bette Davis "thrill hit" THE ANNIVERSARY, also a time
when someone thought a drive-in double bill of THE GOOD,
THE BAD AND THE UGLY and FITZWILLY was a good idea.