Shock, M, 95 Mins
Something of a lost classic , director Larry Peerce’s raw, uncomfortable drama must have seemed pretty confronting in 1967, and nowadays still feels tense, as his intriguing cast gets psychologically terrorised (and do some psychological terrorising back too).
In the early hours of a rainy Monday morning in the Bronx we meet a pair of mean punks, Joe Ferrante (Tony Musante before Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen, surprisingly scary in his film début), who board a subway train and, just for fun, hold the trapped and frightened passengers captive.
And these commuters are quite a bunch, and they include: bickering marrieds Bill (Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s sidekick here in his film début) and Helen (Diana Van der Vlis) and their four year old daughter; horny young Tony (Victor Arnold) and his long-suffering virgin girlfriend Alice (Donna Mills before Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me); an older Jewish couple, Sam and Bertha (played by prestige character stars Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter); a pair of soldiers, Philip (Robert Bannard) and Felix (Beau Bridges in an early role); a fragile recovering alcoholic named Douglas (Bette Davis’ onetime husband Gary Merrill); Kenneth (Robert Fields), a sympathetic gay man who helps draw attention to the homoerotic vibe that’s going on between Joe and Artie; and an older black couple, Arnold and Joan (Brock Peters and the great Ruby Dee), who unwisely stick around as, controversially enough, Arnold enjoys watching white people hurt each other.
Un-PC in detail and allowing a glimpse of New York before the ‘80s clean-up, Peerce’s film is more than some ‘social issue’ or even late-on ‘juvenile delinquent’ outing, and features strong work from the entire ensemble, especially Gilford (a long way from Cocoon), Ritter (a long way from Rear Window), Musante (his best performance, surely) and Sheen, who never dared be this vicious again.