What I watched: The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
How I watched it: library-rented DVD
Synopsis: All the men in a small western town ride out to try and find the killers of one of their community’s beloved ranchers, and to exact their vengeance upon the supposed murderers.
Why I watched: I knew nothing about this film except that Henry Fonda was in it. I actually must have read the synopsis for a different movie when I looked it up and rented it because I thought I was going to be watching a movie about a man who rescues a town from a terrible environmental disaster or something like that. Even in the days leading up to watching it I could hear Fonda’s voice in my head, a familiar lecturing tone rustled up to do some good for humanity.
Anyway, this movie is one of those movies on the 1001-movies-to-see-before-you-die list that I had never heard of, so when I saw the library had a copy I decided to plunge right in.
Notes: What an interesting little movie this was. If you can see past all the trappings of the Western, and trust me, all the trappings are there, this is a movie with some definite depth and resonance today.
If I’m being honest, had I know quite what this movie was about, I may have skipped it or put if off a bit longer, because movies about lynching terrify me (as they should). And that this movie ends the way it does therefore makes my endorsement all the more surprising, and in my opinion, the movie all the more interesting.
The movie is made up of half-fleshed out characters, which in this case helps to create a compelling story that feels much more realistic than I find most Westerns. It was unpredictable. Even Fonda, who, despite having seen several of his films I associate mainly with the titular role in The Young Mr. Lincoln wasn’t playing against character per se, he was still the hero and good guy in several ways, but he had an edge to him. He wasn’t about to be the hero if it meant risking his own neck (literally in this case). I appreciated his variance in character.
Furthermore, and this was furthest from my expectations for this film, there was some very engaging camerawork to be seen here, two sequences stand out to me especially. The first is when the three accused men are tied up and there is a point when a movement of the camera from left to right creates a re-framing of the characters, adjusting the characters (in the foreground and background) in need of your attention. Secondly, when Fonda’s character reads out the letter Andrews’ character has written, we have a profile of Fonda reading where his eyes are completely blocked by the hat of his friend who is in the foreground. Such that your focus is entirely on Fonda’s mouth reading the words, and his friends eyes as the words are read. What a compelling and inventive way to depict this sequence.
I have a hard time imaging how this movie could have been made better.
Recommend: Yes, but fair warning: this movie will kick you in the gut and not apologize for it.