on 25 February 2005
"The Ox-Bow Incident," while a western by genre, is a profound analysis of the social phenomena of lynch mobs. This transcends the classic lynchings through hanging, but the manner by which groups of people presume guilt as condemn the suspect without a fair hearing.
Henry Fonda's character is one man who believes in capital punishment, but also believes in the right to a fair trial. However, he faces down a large posse of bloodlusting men who are not interested in examining the difficult truth, but instead who prefer the convenient satiation of their rage. How does one voice among many speak, especially if they don't want to hear? There is a depth to it, similar to "Twelve Angry Men," also starring Fonda.
Anthony Quinn is one of two men facing a tree-hung noose. MASH's Henry Morgan is very young and dapper here (without his horse, Sophie), and stars as Fonda's friend.
A subplot regards a military leader who essentially leads the posse to the men, and his relationship with his son whom he forces to come along. The son, a prim and delicate sophisticate is opposed to his machismo-laden father in both personality and mission. Their conflict between right and wrong, son against father, man against child is more than a subplot, but a natural part of any such confrontation.
A short film of 75 minutes apparently not yet on DVD, it is acclaimed as a classic. However, it is far from showing the powerful vistas of "Red River" or the gruff but witty one-liners of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." It moves quickly, and its tight editing avoids cliches and limits the viewer from feeling as if he can expect the next line.
I fully recommend "The Ox-Bow Incident." It is the sort of movie worth watching in a high school civics course, or in a movie discussion group.
on 30 April 2009
This movie packs an amazing amount into 75 minutes. Not a moment is wasted by director William Wellman as the events leading to a brutal lynching, illicit in every sense, are charted with chilling skill.
While the film makes a powerful case that the rule of law must underpin any society that calls itself civilised, in no sense is all filmic interest subordinated to this one narrative purpose. For a start, this is almost a Western in name only in that the 20th Century Fox chief, Darryl Zanuck, stipulated it be made almost entirely on studio sets, much of the 'outdoor' action taking place at night against painted backcloths. This gives the film an artificial, cramped, but beauitifully lit feel that will not appeal to people who like their westerns to inhabit the high sierra and the buffalo plains. On the other hand the claustrophobic feel focuses attention on the social comment aspect of the film which is its raison d'etre.
It is astonishing what variety and subtlety of character has been stuffed into the brief running time. Henry Fonda as a simple cowboy changes and develops in the course of the night, and most of the members of the lynch posse stand out as individuals - the implacable, self-appointed leader, his initially timid but ultimately brave son, the lawless deputy sheriff, the sadistic hangman, the tricoteuse, and the trio of suspects who meet their fate in their different ways.
A group of character actors do great work here, with Jane Darwell as the heartless trocoteuse making your hair stand on end with her demonic cackle and Frank Conroy a sinister figure as the self-righteous vigilante. But this is Henry Fonda's film. It's quite a feat to stand out as a relatively quiet leading man when a posse of character actors are making hay with juicy parts all around you. But Fonda's great screen presence, his ability to attract the viewer's eye to him when he's doing next to nothing is a tremendous asset here. The very last scene where he reads out one of the lynched men's letter from the grave is a classic; the letter is couched in unfeasibly literary terms for a simple rancher, but Fonda's laconic yet emotional delivery banishes all scepticism.
A powerful, economical film.
Sadly this is another example of a very fine Western being unavailable on Region 2. "The Ox Bow Incident"(43) is based on the powerful book of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. First published in 1940 it has been reprinted many times. Henry Fonda who had the lead role felt it was one of his major vehicles after "The Grapes of Wrath"(40). The film was directed by William Wellman and is without a doubt the finest film that he made. He also directed the Western "Yellow Sky"(48) which was also very good.
The film opens with Fonda and his pard, Henry Morgan riding into a town and entering the saloon. A wrangler has been shot. A posse is formed and they all ride out lusting for blood. Three cowboys are found camped at Ox Bow played by Dana Andrews, Francis Ford (Brother of the legendary film director John Ford) and Anthony Quinn as the Mexican. They proclaim their innocence but are hung after a kangaroo court. Dana Andrews is allowed to write a last letter to his wife. It is later found that the men were innocent after all and the posse return in shame to the town. In the film Fonda reads out the letter in the saloon although in the book it is never read. This is perhaps the one flaw in the film. Some things are more powerful left unsaid.
The film is a strong warning against taking the law into your own hands. Henry King explored the same themes in "The Bravados"(58) but to lesser effect. The film has a deep touching poignancy. It is easy to see how we are swayed by more powerful characters. Sadly this very honest film was not in keeping with the escapist films of WW2 and the film flopped at the box Office. War time audiences wanted to see something more optimistic than innocent cowboys being lynched. But since then it has deservedly been hailed as a classic. It is certainly a fable for our times. It shows how ordinary folk banding together to dispense justice can be reduced to the lowest form of intelligence. The film is also ground breaking in being the precursor for the psychological Western. Powerful viewing. Highly recommended.
20th Century Fox presents "OX-BOW INCIDENT" (1943) (75 min/B&W) -- Starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Jane Darwell & Harry Morgan
Directed by William A. Wellman
Two drifters are passing through a Western town, when news comes in that a local farmer has been murdered and his cattle stolen. The townspeople, joined by the drifters, form a posse to catch the perpetrators. They find three men in possession of the cattle, and are determined to see justice done on the spot.
This was the last film during that period of time ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture which received no other Academy Award nominations. A very unusual film for its time in that it features an Afro-American character as one of the main voices of conscience.
Special footnote: -- The role played by Henry Fonda was originally offered to Gary Cooper, who turned it down. Henry Fonda was generally unhappy with the quality of the films he had to do while under contract with 20th Century Fox. This was one of only two films from that period that he was actually enthusiastic about starring in. The other was The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
1. William A. Wellman [Director]
Date of Birth: 29 February 1896 - Brookline, Massachusetts
Date of Death: 9 December 1975 - Los Angeles, California
2. Henry Fonda [aka: Henry Jaynes Fonda]
Date of Birth: 16 May 1905 - Grand Island, Nebraska
Date of Death: 12 August 1982 - Los Angeles, California
3. Dana Andrews
Date of Birth: 1 January 1909 - Covington County, Mississippi
Date of Death: 17 December 1992 - Los Alamitos, California
Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Picture & Sound: 5 Stars
Performance: 5 Stars
Story & Screenplay: 5 Stars
Overall: 5 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 75 min on DVD ~ 20th Century Fox ~ (11/04/2003)
on 20 February 2014
One of the most thought provoking and best westerns of all time. How ordinary people can be changed and swept along under the fury of mob rule. Once the adrenalin rush is coursing through the mobs veins all they want to do is hang somebody, saves having a trial. Unfortunately there are consequences for their actions. Once again Henry Fonda is Terrific in the role, but Dana Andrews gives one of the best, if not the best performances of his career. 5 stars without a doubt.
Good old Optimum western classics have come up with another great addition to their collection that was previously and very annoyingly only available on Region 1. "The Ox Bow Incident"(43) is based on the powerful book of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. First published in 1940 it has been reprinted many times, and happens to be one of my favourite novels of the old west. Often the film is a disappointment after reading the book, but not in this case. Henry Fonda who had the lead role interestingly felt it was one of his major vehicles after "The Grapes of Wrath"(40). The film was directed by William Wellman and is in my humble opinion the finest film that he made. He also directed the excellent and atmospheric Western "Yellow Sky"(48) which is nearly in the same league. The film opens with Fonda, who is perfectly cast as an impressionable young cowboy, and his pard Henry Morgan riding into a town and entering the saloon. A wrangler has been shot. A posse is formed and they all ride out lusting for blood. Three cowboys are found camped at Ox Bow played by Dana Andrews, Francis Ford (Brother of the legendary film director John Ford) and Anthony Quinn as the Mexican. Suspicion falls upon these three men and range justice begins to take its course.
The film is a strong warning against taking the law into your own hands. Henry King explored the same themes in "The Bravados"(58), as did James Cagney's character in the excellent and underrated film "Tribute to a Badman". The film has a deeply touching poignancy, especially in the genuinely moving scene where Fonda reads out a letter. It is easy to see how as isolated individuals we can be swayed by peer pressure. Sadly this very honest film was not in keeping with the escapist films of WW2 and the film flopped at the box Office. War time audiences wanted to see something more optimistic than a lynch hungry mob after blood. But since then it has deservedly been hailed as a classic. It is certainly a fable for our times, and like "Twelve Angry Men" after it, goes to the core roots of that great American sense of justice. It shows how ordinary folk banding together to dispense justice can be reduced to the lowest form of intelligence. The film is also ground breaking in being the precursor for the psychological Western. Powerful viewing. Highly recommended. Keep em coming Optimum!
The Ox-Bow Incident is directed by William A. Wellman and adapted to screenplay by Lomar Trotti from the novel of the same name written by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. It stars Henry Fonda, Henry Morgan, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe and Jane Darwell. Music is scored by Cyril J. Mockridge and cinematography by Arthur C. Miller.
Gil Carter & Art Croft ride into the town of Bridger's Wells, they hit the local saloon to imbibe after a log hard cattle drive. Whilst there a man runs in and announces that a popular man from the town has been shot by rustlers. The sheriff is out of town and a lynch mob quickly forms to bring what they see as swift justice to the culprits, Gil & Art join the posse so as to make sure they themselves don't get blamed for the shooting. The posse finds three weary workers and convince the majority that these guys are guilty and that instant hanging is the only way to do things. There are, however, one or two dissenting voices......
What a fabulous movie this is, a powerful indictment of how the lynch mob mentality can grip and lead to pain for many. William Wellman directs superbly, with a big ensemble in such a small area (Ox-Bow), he manages to get the right blend of emotive reactions from the leading players. Henry Fonda as Gill Carter is perfectly sedate and compassionate, even though he is far from being a flawless character, Dana Andrews as Donald Martin is heart achingly real, while others like Frank Conroy as Major Tetley are suitably full of ignorant bluster. It's quite an experience to see Wellman pull them all together with so much style. The photography from Miller is excellent, shadowy low tone black and white that is in keeping with the downbeat nature of the film, it infuses the picture with a gritty hard bitten noirish look. While Mockridge scores it suitably as sombre.
Ultimately it's the story that triumphs the most, claustrophobic in nature, it is simple yet tragic as it spins out to tell us how a group of seemingly sane individuals turned out to be a mass of incoherent reasoning. When a letter is read out during the finale, it is devastating in its effect, we see men broken, heads bowed in shame, others heavy in heart, their lives never to be the same. The emotional whack is hard hitting, and rightly so. For this is unashamedly a message movie, and a worthy one at that, so much so its reputation has grown over the years, where both the film and novel have made it into some educational curriculum's. It's very much a landmark Western, by choosing to forgo action for dark characterisations, it opened up the Western genre to being more than just shoot-outs and trail blazing. Had it been made seven or eight years later I think it would have garnered higher critical praise.
In spite of being one of Fonda's favourite movies that he made, the film didn't make money. The public were not quite ready for such sombre beats (Orson Welles, tellingly I feel, loved it), the critics of the time were irked by Wellman's decision to film the key trial and lynching sequences on the stage. Yet the closeness this gives the narrative serves it well, thrusting the many characters close together so they, and us, can see the whites of everyone's eyes, this is about focusing on the faces of those about to commit a capital crime. The close confines also gives off a pervasive sense of doom, where pessimism seeps through, there is no short changing here, the makers are dealing in bleakness and the right choices are made to produce one of the finest and most upsetting exponents of mob mentality played out on film. 9/10
on 24 November 2011
usual Fonda, understated acting but great screen presence .a classic tale on the evils of zealotry and of course the question which will not go away, how do you correct mistakes in relation to capital punishment when mistakes occur
on 30 October 2014
The charactarisations in this film are excellent, and are all believable. Outstanding performance by Henry Fonda. The story centres on the terrible consequences of over-reaction and haste in doing the 'right thing'. It is told in a simple way, without any attempt at sensationalism and shows how easy it is for people to get caught up in situations that can very easily slip out of control. Excellent film.
on 16 March 2013
At the start of the film Henry Fonda rides into town with his sidekick, Henry Morgan. The same pair ride out at the end. The in-between section is ironically dominated by a character, called Larry Kinkaid, who doesn't even appear in the movie. The plot, which deals with the build-up to a triple lynching, has religious undertones of the Crucifixion. The characters are sketched in masterly fashion, somewhat polarised, but convincing. My one beef is that the actor, Leigh Whipper, a bumbling preacher, named Sparks, a negro version of Hank Worden, is not even credited, despite the fact that he plays a significant part in the most dramatic sequences. I would recommend this wartime film for its impeccable plotline, photography and character delineation. A must for any fan of black and white western movies.