This now-classic indictment of mob rule was a pet project of both star Henry Fonda and director William Wellman, both of whom agreed to work on lesser 20th Century-Fox projects in exchange for this film. After a hard winter on the range, cowboys Gil Carter (Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan) ride into a fleabitten small town for a drink. Within minutes, they get mixed up in a barroom brawl, which earns them the animosity of the locals. By and by, word reaches town that a local rancher has been killed by rustlers. With the ...
This now-classic indictment of mob rule was a pet project of both star Henry Fonda and director William Wellman, both of whom agreed to work on lesser 20th Century-Fox projects in exchange for this film. After a hard winter on the range, cowboys Gil Carter (Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan) ride into a fleabitten small town for a drink. Within minutes, they get mixed up in a barroom brawl, which earns them the animosity of the locals. By and by, word reaches town that a local rancher has been killed by rustlers. With the sheriff out of town, a lynch mob is formed under the leadership of Major Tetley (Frank Conroy), a former Confederate officer who hopes to recapture past glories. Worried that they'll be strung up, Carter and Croft reluctantly join the mob and head out of town. In the dark of night, the group comes across three sleeping transients: a farmer named Martin (Dana Andrews), a Mexican (Anthony Quinn), and a senile old man (Francis Ford). The fact that Martin carries no bill of sale written by the so-called murder victim is evidence enough for Tetley to demand that the three men be hanged on the spot. Carter knows that this is a gross miscarriage of justice, but he's helpless to intervene. Resolving himself to his fate, Martin gives Carter a letter to deliver to his wife. The three unfortunates die at the end of the rope, and the mob rides off, only to discover that there never was a murder of any kind. Based on a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident is not so much a western as a gothic melodrama, with deep, looming shadows and atmospheric underlighting worthy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Though the film lost a fortune at the box office (a fact that Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck never tired of pointing out to Fonda and Wellman), it gains in stature with each passing year. Hal Erickson, Rovi
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Marc Lawrence, Harry Davenport, Matt Briggs, Jane Darwell, William Eythe, Mary Beth Hughes, Harry Morgan, Anthony Quinn, Dana... New. 1943 Run time: 75. Buy with confidence-Satisfaction Guaranteed! Delivery Confirmation included for all orders in the US.
Hollywood Westerns fell into a sharp decline in the late 1960s, but there has been a revival of interest in the best works in the genre. The best Western films transcend stereotypes and formulas to portray people and situations of moral complexity. This 1943 film "The Ox-Bow Incident" shows the Western at its best. The film is an adaptation of a 1940 novel of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark which also is rightly regarded as a classic of Western literature. I have read and reviewed Clark's novel together with watching the film. The movie is faithful in theme and spirit to the novel while adapting the story to the demands of the screen.
William Wellman directed the film and Lamar Trotti wrote the screenplay based upon Clark's novel which is set in 1885 in a small Nevada town. The film starred Henry Fonda as a cowboy, Gil Carter, who with his friend Art Croft (Harry Morgan) reluctantly becomes involved in a posse to find a group of alleged cattle rustlers and murderers. When news of the rustling and murder reaches the town, a posse is quickly formed allegedly to bring the perpetrators to justice. Although warned by the town judge and by the elderly owner of a general store, Arthur Davies (Harry Davenport) to respect the law and to bring the alleged suspects in for a fair trial, the posse degenerates immediately into a lynch mob led by Major Tetley (Frank Conroy) who claims to be a former Confederate officer. Tetly's son Gerald (William Eythe) is forced to go along even though he is opposed to the posse.
The posse comes across three men, including a young rancher played by Dana Andrews, an elderly senile man played by Francis Ford, and a Mexican gambler played by Anthony Quinn. After some brief interrogation, Major Tetley determines the three men deserve the rope. This decision is agreed to by all but seven of the party of 28. Immediately after the hangings, the party receives news from the sheriff that the cattle were not stolen, that the rancher allegedly killed was still alive and that the persons responsible for his wounding had been caught. In other words, the three people hanged by the mob were innocent.
This film is short, about 75 minutes, and quickly paced. The book on which it is based is about 300 pages and in many places it is slow and dense to read. The book takes the time to develop many of the individual characters involved in the posse and it includes a great deal of discussion among the participants of the nature of justice and of the importance of the rule of law. The film omits most of the character development and discussions and focuses instead on action and on the nature of the mob. Both the novel and the film make essentially the same points in slightly different ways appropriate to the mediums.
The dangers of fascism played an important role in both Clark's novel and in its film adaptation. But the questions the film aptly poses about community, justice, the rule of law, mob psychology, and the danger of jumping to conclusions transcend any particular time or political movement. I took from the story a lesson about the dangers of mob action and the value of reflection and judgment, qualities which are both valuable and rare. In the film, the viewer quickly learns that the mob has acted unjustly. In complex situations in life, it is often difficult to parse through competing positions. Situations often present ambiguities which need to be worked out with time.
This film is beautifully acted with a concise fast moving story that doesn't waste a moment. The black and white cinematography and the focus on the thoughts of some of the characters give "The Ox-Bow Incident" a degree of similarity to film noir. The film was produced and released with some reluctance given the serious nature of its themes, and it was not financially successful in its day. Still, the film should dispel prejudices some may have about the alleged shallowness of the Western genre. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and it is listed on the United States National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as "culturally. historically, or aesthetically significant."
This film remains able to provoke reflection and disquiet. It may help the viewer think afresh about the nature of justice, the rule of law, and the danger of mob psychology.