The next film to be ticked off my Film7070 challenge checklist is the 1943 Western The Ox-Bow Incident, starring the always fantastic Henry Fonda and directed by William A. Wellman.
The story begins when two drifters Gil (Henry Fonda) and Art (Henry Morgan) stumble through a small town looking for a place of rest and a hard earned drink.Â But when the news of a local farmerâ€™s murder and the theft of his cattle reach the community the townspeople rally and form a posse joined by Gil and Art to find the criminals and give them their idea of justice.
The posse find three men sleeping, a well-spoken man named Martin (Dana Andrews), a smug Mexican (Anthony Quinn) and a disorientated old man (Francis Ford).Â The bloodthirsty gang accuse them of their crimes but Martin denies any allegations linking him to the murder and states that he purchased the cattle from the dead farmer legally.
Like my 1941 addition of the Film7070 challenge Here Comes Mr Jordan, I had no previous knowledge of this film before pressing play to start the picture and well, coming across films like this is surely going to make this challenge worthwhile.Â The Ox Bow Incident is a true hidden gem that left me a little in awe and its complexity and themes.
The film is handled so impeccably well and the message it tries to express rings out like booming choir, the characters straddle the line between justice and vengeance and explore the idea of what is true and what you want to be true.Â Major Tetley (Frank Conroy) heads the posse and leads the questioning of the men, but Tetley like most of the gang is sure the three men are guilty and want to string them up so that they can get the justice they deserve.
The town senior Davies (Harry Davenport) and preacher Sparks (Leigh Whipper) seem to be the only ones who think the groupâ€™s rash judgements and mob mentality are not of sound mind and think that the three men should be taken back to town and given the correct trial as the sheriff is not there to be the firm work of the law.Â Itâ€™s the best representation of emotions taking over ethics Iâ€™ve seen, they want someone to pay for the murder of their friend and they want it now.Â The lust for violence shown is actually quite disturbing at times, and if not for moral stance of Davies and Sparks as well as Gil as the story unfolds the film could have been much darker and grim than it already is.
The drama and suspense is always front and centre as the leader of the three alleged murders Martin seems to be a good man and not able of such a horrible crime, the pressure and hatred threw upon him so quickly gives Dana Andrews some brilliant material to play off and he never once disappoints. Henry Ford being the biggest name in the cast gets lead in the billing but itâ€™s very much an ensemble effort.
How the film deals with the moral choice of blurred justice delivers a very dark insight to the human mind, it shows the animalistic nature of people as the posse are nothing more than a pack of wild dogs with blood on their tongue who will not listen to a word or reason.Â Thereâ€™s not a shred of evidence linking Martin and the two others to the Farmer death but they donâ€™t care.
Itâ€™s actually hard to find a likeable character in the film as even the people who argue against the hanging donâ€™t do enough to try and handle the situation.Â Fondaâ€™s character is on the periphery of the group witnessing to what he sees as masochistic injustice, but he really isnâ€™t man enough to take the situation into his own hands and stop it and itâ€™s his internal struggle that fuels his performance and what we see on screen.Â Itâ€™s basically a story of when good men donâ€™t do enough.
The scenes are long and thereâ€™s a lot of talking and at only 75 minutes in length Wellman doesnâ€™t waste a second.Â The script is nearly flawless, tense, eloquent, powerful and emotional.Â I couldnâ€™t have dreamed that this film would have had the impact it did and that is one of the great things as a film lover, thereâ€™s nothing better than a great surprise and The Ox-Bow Incident should labelled as a masterpiece no question asked.