Directed by William A. Wellman
Based on the novel The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Screenplay by Lamar Trotti
Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan, Jane Darwell
When a posse catches three suspected rustlers and murderers, they become divided on how to handle their captives. The question of lynching or taking them in for a trial quickly creates tension among the men.
This is a classic Western that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The film is based on the 1940 novel of the same name, written by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (Track of the Cat). The screenplay was written by Lamar Trotti (Wilson), and the film was directed by William A. Wellman (A Star is Born (1937)). The cast of this film includes Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West), Dana Andrews (The Best Years of Our Lives), and Anthony Quinn (Lawrence of Arabia). Harry Morgan (Bend of the River) and Jane Darwell (The Grapes of Wrath) are also featured.
This is a wonderfully written film, based on Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s first published work. William A. Wellman pushed to make the film after reading the novel, and enlisted Trotti to write the script. The story is not one of redemption. I hesitated to call it a Western at first, mainly due to the unique approach of the film. The story begins with a quick and nicely executed introduction to the main characters. What follows is a somewhat predictable series of events that lead to what seems to be the clear resolution. The interesting aspect of this story is the success that comes from being so predictable. With all of the assumption the story encourages, the audience is left to hope for the characters to make the right choices. The payoff in this film is wonderful, and it holds up wonderfully after more than 70 years.
The acting in this movie is just right for the excellence of the script. Henry Fonda was the perfect choice for the lead role in this movie. His ability to embody the tremendous conflict of his character gives this one something special. He’s joined by a tremendous cast of great actors who helped make this wonderful. One of the best performances in this film came from Jane Darwell. Her tough-as-nails portrayal of Ma Grier really adds something special to this one. Like many of her performances, this one feels written for her. Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and Harry Morgan also do great work in this one. Casting truly played a part in making this one stand out within the genre.
This is a great looking film as well. Although the film was shot mainly on sound stages and backlots, there is no lack of authenticity. Cinematographer Arthur Miller (How Green Was My Valley) captured the story with great skill, using light and shadows to accentuate the clashing feelings of the story. The score for the film also adds something special. Composer Cyril J. Mockridge (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) did a great job accenting the emotional tones of the story.
This is a great film, and a must-see for fans of Westerns. I would also suggest this one to fans of any of the stars. This would also be a great choice for fans of films like 12 Angry Men. There is something hauntingly honest about this movie that really sets it apart from many Westerns of the era. It’s also interesting to note that this would be Henry Fonda’s last film before he enlisted in the Navy to join the war effort. His next work would be in John Ford’s 1946 film, My Darling Clementine. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.