Incident in an Alley (MGM LE Collection) Review

The easy pull of Incident in an Alley is that it's based on a story by Rod Serling, host and creator of The Twilight Zone. More accurately, it's based on a television play, which Serling had written, that aired in 1955 on The United States Steel Hour. The hourlong small screen version was also directed by a young Sidney Lumet and starred Farley Granger. Sounds intriguing on the talent involved alone. This low budget film adaptation, released in 1962, unfortunately shares none of those participants and instead is forced to make do with director Edward L. Cahn and a cast of unfamiliar names.

Serling's story concerns a uniformed beat cop (Chris Warfield) who mistakenly kills a fleeing 14-year-old. The subsequent trial and, especially, its aftermath dominate the picture. The moral conflict inherent in the boy's shooting death is, to the movie's great credit, not glossed over. There's a strong sense of cynicism that immediately follows, a likely holdover from Serling. It's made clear that if the police department doesn't support the officer it will make the entire force look bad, shaking the public's trust in them. Whether this is the right thing to do isn't really considered. The pressure from the killing is a means to explore the fragile balance involved in law enforcement. The public wants criminals off the streets and expects cops to act as necessary, but has little patience for the inherent human errors. The flipside understandably favors those innocent and relatively innocent victims left in the wake.

While some parts of the trial then serve to expand these ideas, it's also during this sequence when the film abandons the grey area where it had previously (and admirably) been content to exist. The prosecutor is demonized and the victim's mother (Virginia Christine) similarly veers away from likability and even sympathy. Following the verdict, the movie again grabs our interest by presenting the officer as riddled with guilt and regret. By the time the third act kicks in, things come somewhat full circle and, though it's no longer interested in the earlier issues, Incident in an Alley becomes a decent enough cops and robbers tale, albeit a conventional one aside from the latter being juvenile delinquents.

The need to pad things out for a feature-length running time (a sturdy 84-plus minutes) from the much shorter teleplay could conceivably create some pacing issues. Not having seen the original version, it's difficult to spot the additions but the active narrative is actually one of the picture's more successful aspects. It really doesn't drag or become tiresome. Cahn's direction remains tight, lean, and as economical as one would expect from his many other features. The sets look highly artificial and cheap, with no shadows to mask such frugality, but that's easy enough to move past. And though the cast is generally nondescript, the actors, save for the lead delinquent's itchy over-the-top emoting, fit the material well without really distinguishing themselves. The memorable exception is a brief but amusing turn by Frank Leo as the clarinet-playing beatnik Boo Boo.

Aside from a few hints and quick bits of subtext, Incident in an Alley doesn't seem to resemble much of what we'd expect from something penned by Serling. It's a little too basic and meek. If this is a result of the original story having been filtered by the time it reached the big screen, and that's entirely possible, then how unfortunate. Certain elements, particularly in the scenes preceding the trial, do suggest a more interesting film potentially lurking in this story. The finished product, while consistently being involving enough to keep the viewer interested, settles for a rather standard approach. The film isn't one to seek out based on Serling's name alone.


The Disc

An entry in MGM's made-on-demand Limited Edition Collection, Incident in an Alley is presented here on a single-layered DVD-R.

The 1962 year of release suggests that the movie must have been shown theatrically in the widescreen format. Nonetheless, MGM opts for a 1.33:1 framing, which almost certainly indicates an open matte presentation. The visuals here are far from striking and there really aren't any distractingly off shots based on the chosen aspect ratios, just a lot of extra head room. It most likely should be presented wider but the failure to do so doesn't prove fatal. Image quality is acceptable, with the black and white contrast sputtering to mediocre standards and nothing truly impressive about the transfer, which is progressive. Damage is a non-issue.

Audio comes through in an English mono track that carries a very prominent hiss throughout the film. It's a timid listen. Despite the layer of hiss and occasional crackle, dialogue still manages to come through audibly and at a consistent, if somewhat low, volume. There are no subtitles offered.

Extras are likewise absent.


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