Ox-Bow Incident, The (1943)

“Don’t let’s go off half-cocked and do something we’ll be sorry for — we want to act in a reasoned and legitimate manner, not like a lawless mob.”

Synopsis:
Two drifters (Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan) join a vengeance-hungry posse eager to hang three men — Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and Francis Ford — who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary appropriately labels this relentlessly “grim” western (based on Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s novel) as “a bit too theatrical”, noting that director William Wellman’s camera is “rarely… on someone who isn’t speaking” — yet despite the static, somewhat stagy direction, it remains an undeniably powerful tale of mob mentality, one which (sadly) holds more relevance today than ever. Top-billed Fonda (in a role somewhat similar to his “Juror #8” in Twelve Angry Men) is really more of a supporting presence, functioning as one of the few participants level-headed enough to recognize that the posse is rushing heedlessly into criminal action; indeed, Ox-Bow is truly an ensemble film, with the cast of (mostly) repugnant characters representing group-think at its worst. What’s most fascinating is recognizing how several key posse members — primarily ultra-macho Major Tetley (Frank Conroy), who wants his effeminate son (William Eythe) to prove his “manliness” through violence — have deeply personal reasons for wanting to exact “justice” at any cost, while others are simply turned on by the thought of a triple hanging. While it’s not a film I look forward to revisiting any time soon, The Ox-Bow Incident remains an essential part of cinematic history, and should be seen by all film fanatics at least once.

P.S. My favorite moments are those with the inimitable Anthony Quinn, who’s given far too little screen time: despite his (initial) feigned innocence and lack of English skills, his eyes are simmering with bitterness and knowledge; when he finally confesses to knowing “seven languages”, and digs a bullet out of his own leg when no one else is brave enough to stomach the task, he brilliantly defies all the unspoken stereotypes heaped upon him because of his “ethnic” appearance.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dana Andrews as Donald Martin
    OxBow Andrews
  • Henry Fonda as Gil Carter
    OxBow Fonda
  • Anthony Quinn as “The Mexican”
    OxBow Quinn
  • A deeply disturbing look at mob mentality run amok
    OxBow Mob

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a seminal western.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Ox-Bow Incident, The (1943)”

  1. A must – not just for ffs but for the average film watcher as well. Truly an important film.

    I prefer to think of it not as a static film but as a simple one – with a straightforward message re: conscience, told in a direct, no-frills manner.

    It should be noted that, although the “macho Major” fears he has a “female son” on his hands, the son does not come off as effeminate; sensitive, yes, but we never once think the son might be gay and it’s unlikely.

    True, it is a terrific ensemble piece. But having just watched it again, it seems to me the film has one of Dana Andrews’ best performances; that’s the one I go away remembering. It even resonates as Fonda reads the letter written to Andrews’ wife out loud at the end.

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