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The Ox-Bow Incident
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74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
This is a classic, black and white western about frontier justice gone awry. Based upon a true incident that was memorialized in Walter Van Tilburg Clark's best selling novel, this film was a Best Picture Academy Award nominee in 1943, losing to "Casablanca".

This timeless and classic western, about how mob rule can carry the day, is set in Nevada around 1885. Cattle rustlers are the bane of the town's existence, when cowboys Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and his illiterate side-kick, Art Croft (Henry Morgan), return to town. On the heels of their return, word gets around that a popular rancher, Larry Kincaid, has been murdered, shot in the head, and his cattle stolen.

The townspeople, mostly men, decide to deputize a posse on their own and take justice into their own hands, rather than wait for the return of the sheriff from the Kincaid ranch. The one woman, "Ma" Grier (Jane Darwell), is a harridan as bloodthirsty as the men. The mob disregards the sane, rational advice of the town's judge and of those townspeople who have cooler heads. Instead, those with blood lust in their veins prevail, and the so-called posse rides out in pursuit of frontier justice. Gil and Art join them, despite being of a mind that it would be best to wait for the sheriff.

The posse happens to come across three sleeping travelers with a herd of cattle. A dapper Mexican (Anthony Quinn), a young husband and father (Dana Andrews), and a piteous, slow-witted, old man constitute the hapless trio. With blood lust rampant, the mob obtains some seemingly damning information from them and quickly forms an opinion as to their guilt. Even though seven men, Gil Carter and Art Croft among them, disagree with the decision, the merciless majority prevails, and rough frontier justice is meted out without benefit of formal trial or due process.

This film is similar in some ways to the 1957 film, "12 Angry Men", also starring Henry Fonda. There, despite a seemingly open and shut case, twelve men are prevailed upon to weight the facts very carefully and to examine the evidence in an objective rational fashion to ensure that justice be done. In "The Ox-Bow Incident", one sees what can happen when one seemingly has an open and shut case but fails to examine the evidence in an objective and dispassionate manner. In one case, justice is done. In the other, a travesty of justice occurs.

This is a superb film, deftly directed by William A Wellman, who exacts marvelous performances from the entire ensemble. Despite its brevity, being only approximately seventy-five minutes in length, the film manages to pack a dramatic wallop. Moreover, the sets are realistic looking, with a dirty, dusty, and gritty feel, as are the seemingly threadbare, dirty, and ratty clothing worn by some of the actors. The film deservedly earned its 1943 Academy Award nomination for best picture.

The transfer to DVD is great, as the print has apparently been re-mastered, providing the viewer with clear, crisp visuals and excellent audio. The DVD also provides some extras, such as a commentary by western scholar Dick Eulain and William Wellman, Jr., the director's son, an excellent A & E Network "Biography" episode, "Henry Fonda: Hollywood's Quiet Hero", as well as a stills gallery. This is a well-priced DVD of a great film, which should find its place in the personal collection of all those who love such films.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2001
When, oh when will this movie come out on DVD? I often don't agree with "film critics", but this Western deserves all the accolades it gets. This movie speaks to the dangers of mob rule. Films so often become preachy and condescending when trying to tell a story with a `moral' behind it such as this, but William Wellman pulls it off here with beauty and finesse.
Henry Fonda is at his most believable in this role, much better in my opinion than in `12 Angry Men', where he single-handedly convinces 11 other jurors of a teen's innocence in a murder trial. Here, Fonda is far more human. He cusses. He drinks. He fights. And, most importantly, because suspicion has already been cast on him and cohort Harry Morgan as possible suspects in the murder/rustling case, he ultimately allows the execution of 3 innocent men to take place. Although he serves as the mirror for law, order, and justice, his own human weaknesses make him powerless to stop the lynching.
The supporting cast is excellent. Morgan does a surprisingly good job as Fonda's buddy `Art'. Jane Darwell is perfect as the untamed Ma Grier. And Leigh Whipper as the black preacher `Sparks' gives the film some spice without going over the top. My only criticism is with Dana Andrews - his performance comes off as rather stagy, but not enough to reduce the powerful impact of the film.
This movie was not shot `on location' but in a studio, purportedly to give it a `claustrophobic' effect. It does just that! There are a few interesting sub-plots too, such as Major Tetley's obsession with `making a man' out of his less-than-masculine son, and Gil (Fonda) meeting up with former sweetheart Rose, who is now married to an obnoxious businessman from San Fransisco.
This film has not a boring moment in it. On an emotional level it runs far deeper than most Westerns. And, if you're a Henry Fonda fan and have not seen this movie, do so. He is far more convincing as an `average Joe' than in many of his `hero' type roles. It may be his best performance ever.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 24, 2007
Ox-Bow Incident

This is a classic, black and white western about frontier justice gone awry. Based upon a true incident that was memorialized in Walter Van Tilburg Clark's best selling novel, this film was a Best Picture Academy Award nominee in 1943

This timeless and classic western, about how mob rule can carry the day, is set in Nevada around 1885. Cattle rustlers are the bane of the town's existence, when cowboys Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and his illiterate side-kick, Art Croft (Henry Morgan), return to town. On the heels of their return, word gets around that a popular rancher, Larry Kincaid, has been murdered, shot in the head, and his cattle stolen.

The townspeople, mostly men, decide to have the sole deputy left behind by the sheriff deputize a posse ratherher than wait for the return of the sheriff from the Kincaid ranch.

This is a superb film, deftly directed by William A Wellman, who exacts marvelous performances from the entire ensemble. He is especially good when the subject is strong men mano-a-mano The film deservedly earned its 1943 Academy Award nomination for best picture.

The transfer to DVD is great, as the print has apparently been re-mastered, providing the viewer with clear, crisp visuals and excellent audio. The DVD also provides some extras, such as a commentary by western scholar Dick Eulain and William Wellman, Jr., the director's son, an excellent A & E Network "Biography" episode, "Henry Fonda: Hollywood's Quiet Hero", as well as a stills gallery. This is a well-priced DVD of a great film, which should find its place in the personal collection of all those who love such films.

Highly recommended for fans of classic westerns and Henry Fonda.

Gunner November 2007
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
This film is incredibly tense and concise; the antithesis of sprawling, yawning Westerns like "The Missing" and "Open Range." At just 75 minutes, shot in claustrophobic black-and-white, not a shot or line of dialogue is wasted. Dana Andrews is completely sympathetic as the leader of the three men unjustly accused of murder, while Henry Fonda has an unusually disquieting turn as someone who goes along with the lynching...at least, until the very end of the picture. They are just two of the many powerful performances. It's a great picture, even for people (like me) who aren't really too keen on Westerns.
The DVD includes a commentary by Dick Etulain, Western professor and enthusiast, and director William Wellman's son. This gets repetitive quickly, so it's best to sample the first thirty minutes and then move on. Strangely, Fox's sound editors seem to have felt similarly, because Wellman repeats a comment right in the middle of the film! Also included are a trailer, photo gallery, restoration comparison, and the real gem of the thing - a great "A&E Biography" episode on Henry Fonda.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2003
"The Ox-Bow Incident" concerns itself with a murder and a lynching - hardly standard Hollywood film fare and probably the primary reason why the film, on its initial release, did not do well at the box office. However, "The Ox-Bow Incident" is probably one of the finest films you are likely to ever see. Director, William Wellman, fills the screen with sweeping social commentary and imbues his lead character, played by Henry Fonda, with the righteous every-man perspective that would become Fonda's hallmark and a main staple in American cinema in the decade's that followed.
TRANSFER: FANTASTIC! After the rather shoddy work done on their studio line's Mark of Zorro and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, I wasn't holding out much hope for their subsequent B&W releases. But "The Ox-Bow Incident" has been remastered with the utmost care and attention to detail. The gray scale is impeccibly rendered. Blacks are black. Some fading is evident but nothing that will distract. Film grain and age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum. There is no trace of edge enhancement, pixelization or shimmering of fine details for a film like presentation that is visually smooth. The audio - remixed to stereo, is nicely cleaned up and well balanced with minimal background hiss.
EXTRAS: An audio commentary that is rather ho-hum and a "Biography" special on Henry Fonda that suffers from too much to say, but not enough time to say it in.
BOTTOM LINE: Very nice transfer. Well worth the average film collector's time and money.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2005
Made in 1943, this short 75-minute Western is a rock solid piece of filmmaking that is remarkably fresh today, thanks to the very intelligent, sparse dialogue and the powerful theme. Killing based on mob justice--without benefit of jury trial--has been a staple, unfortunately, of American history, as recently as the 20th century (see the excellent HBO film Vendetta for an example of this), and The Ox-Bow Incident, based on a real 19th century incident, is another.

Henry Fonda is brilliant as the understated male lead whose sense of decency is belied by his gruff cynical exterior. The cynicism he expresses is so pungent, without at all being overblown, that this in itself just about makes the film worth seeing. Henry Morgan as his partner adds the right amount and degree of companionship presence, and the other actors do a fine job as well with the sharp dialogue that wastes no words.

When three men are falsely accused of rustling cattle and, in particular, killing the man from whom the cattle was stolen, the posse who so accuses them wastes no time in going after them. One of the three, a Mexican played by Anthony Quinn, is much smarter than the initially lets on. Interestingly enough, Quinn, despite his name, was in fact born in Mexico so his character is a real life correlate with his own cultural heritage.

Knowing that "ethnic cleansing" and terrorism are very much a part of our modern world, The Ox-Bow Incident's denouement speech by Fonda's character--reading a letter written by one of the three accused men--is a powerful indictment of one of the basest traits of human nature. This is a grim, powerful film with no ounce of fat on it and that will last for decades to come.

Very highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes Amazon's "Editorial Reviews" absolutely burn me up. Do these people even watch these films? The "one cowboy who tried to turn the mob aside" apparently refers to Fonda's character, who actually observes and doesn't get very involved, speaking aside to his friend and therefore serving as our narrator; there are actually other characters more directly involved with the events pictured here who try to stop the lynching, and in any event, NONE of these "ultimately prove" the innocence of the accused. Finally, Fonda made this film years after "The Grapes of Wrath," with "The Ox-Bow Incident" coming just before he entered the service in WWII; "My Darling Clementine" was his first release after the war. Sheesh.

But what you really want to know, those of you who haven't yet seen this film, is whether this classic holds up to its reputation and is fit for viewing today. The answers are yes and yes, absolutely. It's a simple little story but well told, based on true events that portray a miscarriage of justice in the American West. The story could just as easily have taken place in any time or place where people are tried in the court of public opinion and then take matters into their own hands. It happens in the cities of the world today, after all.

An America at war wasn't interested in seeing this downbeat film at that time, and I doubt if 20th Century Fox has yet retrieved its investment for having given the project the go-ahead. It eventually earned its reputation as public moods shifted, and is well worth a viewing. A cautionary tale for those (the majority?) of us who tend to shoot our mouths off regarding the actions of others when we know little about them. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and there were plenty of fools at the Ox Bow...but not enough angels.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2000
The Ox-Bow Incident is the best film that I have seen to look at the dynamics and mentality of a mob. In this story, three innocent men are captured and accused of the death of a rancher. Although Henry Fonda, a drifter, tries to change the mind of the mob, everyone wants "justice". The lives of three men hang in the balance. Fonda, as usual, is excellent in his role of the man trying to convince the others, similar in a way to his role in 12 Angry Men. Dana Andrews, as one of the accused men, gives a heartfelt, unusually emotional performance. The movie is short (75 minutes), which means the action moves at a good pace, and the black and white photography adds to the starkness of the whole situation. This is a western that takes a sharp look at how mobs function, and it presents a lot of unfortunate truths.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2003
I first saw this movie in 1943 in Nebraska. In those days, some theatres would show "previews," or complete movies that had not yet been released in the area. Typically, these were shown following the last feature on Saturday night, which meant that it was close to midnight before the preview began which, in turn, meant that usually there were few people in the theatre. The Ox-Bow Incident is one of the most unrelievedly gloomy, brooding, threatening movies ever made. Try to imagine seeing this film for the first time, well after midnight in a small Nebraska town in an almost empty theatre, with the distinct feeling that what appeared on the screen could just as well be happening right outside the theatre. With the possible exception of The Third Man (also first seen as a preview), no movie has had as lasting an impact on me. The premise was not especially novel - a small town mob of hard cases, sluggards, and just plain cow pokes and townspeople set out to catch some cattle rustlers who killed a respected, at least in death, member of the community and avenge his murder. They rather quickly come upon the rancher's herd being driven by Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and an older hand who seems not to be of sound mind. Andrews pleads their innocence with tears and begging that is almost painful to watch; Quinn spits defiance and scorn for his captors; and the senior citizen seems puzzled about what is happening. Henry Fonda and Henry (later Harry Morgan of "Mash" fame) Morgan, are two cow punchers who unfortunately drift into town along with word of the rustling and killing. They initially appear destined to be the forces of reason who will keep the mob under control. Arthur Davies, as a storekeeper who strongly believes in his religion and the constitution of his country, fervently pleads with what quickly has turned into a mob to do the Christian thing and to follow the strictures of the law. But it is evident that he has played a similar role too often with most of the members of the mob and has lost whatever effectiveness he might have had. To a degree, Fonda and Morgan try to back him, but as strangers themselves, they are not immune to suspicion so must tread warily. What would be a subplot if it bore less on the outcome of the film involves an attempt of a retired army officer to force his nearly grown son to "act like a man." His attempts have disastrous effects on the whole venture. The movie is faithful to the Walter Van Tilburg Clark book that is little more than a short story. The issue of how quickly a group of citizens can turn into an unthinking mob which is pivotal to this film was hardly new at the time. What makes the film strike you in the solar plexus like a horse's kick is the marvelous somber, dark, ominous atmosphere of the surroundings, from the interior of the bar to the outside, coupled with the powerful acting of the cast from top to bottom. There is not a weak link in the cast. Fonda is world-weary but still possessed of a sense of decency. He endeavors, perhaps with less than unbridled enthusiasm, to keep the mob from its intended action, but seems to convey that he knows he will not succeed. Morgan, is excellent in the sidekick role. Davies, Quinn, Andrews,and the rest all are excellent. On my list of best films, this one surely is in the top 10. It is a crying shame that it is not better known and more widely honored. Like some other reviewers, I wonder when a DVD will be made; one is long overdue.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2006
The theme here is based on William's Wellman's stern, uncompromising study of mob rule, set in the Old West... It is one of tragic misunderstanding, the sort of witches brew of error, impatience and intolerance, which must have often characterized Western rough justice...

Mob fury surrounds a little cattle-town like a fever... Most citizens seem only too eager to join a manhunt for the murderer of a rancher... Henry Fonda and his sidekick Henry Morgan have to go along with the tide, if only for the fact that, as wanderers passing through, they are not above suspicion themselves...

The unofficial posse, under the leadership of Major Tetley (Frank Conroy) comes upon the campfire of three suspects...

On the basis of circumstantial evidence, Tetley exhorts the mob into an on-the-spot trial... Despite the pleas of a few dissenters, a guilty verdict t is quickly reached and a triple lynching is performed...

Then, riding back, the lynch-mob gets the news that the rancher is still alive and the real villains have been taken...

"The Oxbow Incident" was never a box office success, but was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture... However the film makes its point, as well as it ever did... It's not only about the social injustice of instant justice; it's also about human nature, all its oddities, frailties and the perils therein... It's often said that it laid the beginning of the psychological Western... That's perhaps too big and ambiguous a claim... What it does possess to a marked degree is keen observation, and a fine distinction that is never difficult to see...
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