One Good Man
"The Incident" is a TV movie, a genre which I watch quite a bit off and as such have come to accept that these low budget movies often come with a plethora of problems. But "The Incident" is different, it still has that made for TV feel, in fact it almost feels like a pilot for a series about a small time lawyer in 1940's America, but this is a movie with a good storyline, good characters, good direction and grabs your interest quickly and doesn't let it go. Now part of the reason why it grabs your attention is that this is a courtroom drama movie and to be honest one which has a basis which isn't too dissimilar to many courtroom dramas especially "A Few Good Men". But because "The Incident" is set back in 1944 and features a patriotic American having to defend a German POW makes it that bit different and more importantly interesting.
Harmon Cobb (Walter Matthau - The Bad News Bears) is a small town lawyer and a patriot, speaking at the local rally in praise of the service men overseas fighting Hitler and his advancing forces. It makes it very awkward for him when he is forced by Judge Bell (Harry Morgan - Dragnet) to defend Sergeant Geiger (Peter Firth), a German POW, who is accused of murdering Cobb's friend Doc Hansen (Barnard Hughes). It is made even more difficult by the fact that Geiger is unwilling to cooperate and no one will help him build any form of defence. But following news that Cobb's son-in-law has been killed overseas evidence comes forth, evidence which paints things in a very different picture.
Now in fairness I am no war expert but for the first 10 minutes or so "The Incident" just doesn't feel quite right, Cobb and his fellow small town residents are not only very patriotic they have a real hatred of the Germans, a hatred much greater than you would expect from grown men. Add to this the Prisoner of War camp just up from this quiet small town and it seems to be over forcing things slightly. But as I said I am no war expert and this may have been exactly how it was in 1944 and as such it is not really a criticism.
Anyway get this intro out of the way with and the murder of the Doc and "The Incident" becomes familiar but not in a bad way. When we see Cobb hauled in to see Judge Bell you know that despite not wanting to defend a German because he will be labelled a sympathiser he will be forced to as the Judge expects him to play along and allow him to sentence the German to death no matter what. It is almost slightly amusing as we have Cobb the small town lawyer coming up against the smarmy, Harvard educated prosecutor who thinks he is going to get a walk over.
And in a way the story progresses in a reasonably predictable manner as to start with Cobb struggles with trying to provide any defence but after a 5 day continuance following the news of the death of his son-in-law Cobb gets a lead. You can sort of guess early on that Geiger is not guilty and that something is going on at Camp Bremen but that doesn't matter because as the truth comes out it becomes interesting especially as Cobb has to deal with Judge Bell who is unimpressed when he provides a defence. Without spoiling things I am going to say that "The Incident" has a strong similarity to "A Few Good Men" which whilst coming 2 years later in 1992 is one of the best known courtroom dramas.
Now Joseph Sargent does a good job of directing "The Incident" and paces things nicely so there is barely a dull moment. But the real plaudits go to Walter Matthau as whilst there are nice performances from Harry Morgan, Robert Carradine, Susan Blakely and a young Ariana Richards it is Matthau who delivers such a perfect character. Early on you can feel his displeasure at being forced to defend a German but you also sense he is a man of justice who won't be made a fool off. And when it comes to the scene where he learns that his son-in-law has died it is so touching yet so simple that you really feel for his character.
What this all boils down to is that "The Incident" is one of those rare little TV movies which buck the trend and are something special. It's not that it is that original and certainly has the style of a TV movie but with a good cast, great performances and solid direction it certainly stands out from the crowd.